In a stunning post on its corporate blog, Google Senior Vice President David Drummond detailed a massive cyber attack on the companies proprietary information, including attempts to hack into the Gmail addresses of individuals who work on human rights in China. While never explicitly accusing the Chinese government of launching the attack, the implications are clear that Google believes this was the case and that the attack was severe and wide-ranging. Google also claims it found evidence more than 20 different large companies were likewise targeted, and Adobe has come forward to confirm it was the victim of similar attacks. The language used in this blog post is striking in its toughness, and reminiscent of the findings of a recent report for the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission on China's growing cyberwarfare capabilities.
The posting references some of the challenges Google has faced in its Chinese operations, as well as the overall climate of internet censorship created by the Beijing regime. It does not, however, reference the many service shut downs -- including an extensive one in the summer of 2009 -- and other related impediments that the Chinese net nannies have thrown in Google's path since it launched its Google.cn Chinese-language search engine in 2006. Toward end of this post, Drummond lays down this shocker (emphasis mine):
These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered--combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web--have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China. We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China.
Wow. Should this happen, Google would become the most prominent US corporation to leave China over a matter of principle. For a company whose internal motto is "Don't be evil", working in China has been a struggle, pitting its free-wheeling culture against the vast market potential of 300 million Chinese internet users. While some have argued that Google was making a relatively small amount of money in China anyway*, it seems that the Chinese have finally pushed Google too far with this latest attack. This should be yet another wake-up call for US businesses, and their boosters in the US government, who still believe that it is possible to do business with the Chinese and expect them to honor intellectual property or even the basic rules of the road. For US defense planners and national security officials, this is yet another warning about the serious nature of the threat that we face from China's use of our technological infrastructure (and our dependence on it) as a weapon, and the fact that they are not waiting for a declared war to deploy it against us. A bland statement from Secretary of State Clinton indicated she will be unveiling some kind of "internet freedom" policy next week. It will be interesting to see (a) how this policy is different from the previous administration's; and (b) whether it does anything serious to address issues such as the situation Google has so dramatically called pur attention to. *Unconvincingly in my view: Google makes around $300 million from Chinese operations and has around 30% market share. Not too shabby, especially considering the market leader, Baidu.com, is heavily supported by the Chinese government, which has simultaneously made a concerted effort to cause problems across the board for Google.