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Google's China woes may afflict Gmail

Bloomberg  |  New York 

Google Inc’s defiance of China’s censorship rules resulted in the world’s most popular search engine being pulled out of the country 12 months ago. This year, the dispute may be spilling over to Gmail and maps.

As of yesterday, China’s State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping hadn’t received an application from Google to keep offering its service, as required under regulations announced in May, according to Kou Jingwei, the bureau’s spokesman. Jessica Powell, a Google spokeswoman, declined to comment on whether the company has applied. The deadline is tomorrow.

As Baidu Inc. widens its lead in the world’s largest Web market, a discontinuation of the mapping service would signal Google’s dimming outlook in China, according to analysts, after the company blamed local censors for disruptions in its e-mail service. The latest clash shows the government hasn’t forgiven Google’s decision to halt compliance with censorship rules on Internet searches, said Christopher Tang, a professor of business administration at UCLA.

“Google faces major problems within China,” Tang said. “Unless Google is going to change the way they operate, unless they are willing to apologise to the Chinese government, unless they are willing to cooperate with the Chinese government to impose censorship according to the wishes of the Chinese government. Otherwise, there’s no deal.”

A March 4 opinion piece in the official People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of China’s Communist Party, compared Google with the British East India Company, whose sales of opium in the country was the root of two 19th-century conflicts.

China introduced a new licensing system for Internet mapping services in May to “address illegal practices” and an “inadequate awareness of national security,” the official Xinhua News agency reported on 21 March. Since 2008, online mapping services have committed more than 1,000 violations including unauthorised disclosure of confidential information and mistakes in drawing the country’s border, Xinhua reported.

As of mid-February, the bureau had granted licenses to 105 websites for mapping services, including Baidu, Sina Corp., a Nokia Oyj (NOK1V)joint venture and China Mobile Ltd. (941), Xinhua said. The bureau has pledged to close unapproved websites.

The bureau said applications for license must be made by 31 March, to avoid “administrative actions” it will take by 1 July. The bureau this month vowed “resolute punishment for serious violations,” such as closing websites, Xinhua said.

“We are examining the regulations to understand their impact on our maps products in China,” Google said.

Google in July was able to renew its Internet-service license in China through 2012, even after shuttering its Google.cn site in China and redirecting users to a Hong Kong site. The company had said it was no longer willing to comply with online censorship rules on topics such as Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989 and Tibet independence.

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First Published: Thu, March 31 2011. 00:29 IST
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