Confusion surrounds Google’s China status

If there is one word to sum up the
current situation of Google in China, that word is confusion.

In the course of 24 hours, the US
internet company’s web search services for the Chinese market went from working
properly; to dysfunctional; to working properly again; and back to
dysfunctional. In a development proving unsettling to its users and customers,
it appears Google is struggling to understand what is going on.

Earlier this week Google took
responsibility for blockages that had occurred during the evening, only to
correct itself and blame the Chinese firewall instead.

The company set up a status page,
to let users know how its Chinese services were performing. On Wednesday night
in Beijing, after a day during which a large number of seemingly random, harmless
searches continued turning up nothing but browser errors, all the page offered
was that the issues that had occurred 24 hours earlier “seem to be resolved”.

This helplessness in dealing with
the fallout of its move last week to stop censorship of its Chinese search
engine has triggered criticism from some observers, who call Google’s move
short-sighted and say the company should have known better than to challenge
Beijing.

Chinese technology experts say that
while it is impossible for outsiders to know exactly what is causing the chaos
at Google’s services, it bears the fingerprints of Beijing’s censors.

“Google has met its match in the
Chinese government,” says the founder of a social networking services website.
“The disruptions are almost certainly a deliberate strategy of those who manage
the web here. Confusion and lack of information are the whole point. That’s how
it works.”

William Long, a software engineer
and technology blogger in Shenzhen, says the situation is “scaring Google users
away, and many are switching to [rival] Baidu already”.

He adds: “This uncertainty is
likely to continue, gradually worsening the user experience. If the firewall
doesn’t change its strategy, Google’s user base in China is going to be
eroded.”

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