In a blog post today, Google has revealed some details on what it says was an unusually coordinated series of cyber-attacks launched against it in December. The attacks, which originated in China, were apparently aimed at gaining access to the Gmail accounts of a number of advocates for human rights in China. Google says only two accounts appear to have been accessed, and even then only basic details like subject lines and date stamps were taken.
As part of their investigation, Google claims to have discovered that dozens of human rights activists the world over have had unauthorized individuals access their Google accounts. This was not part of the December attacks, but was likely the result of phishing. Google has apparently plugged the holes that were exploited, but they aren’t done yet.
The Google.cn domain was launched in 2006 when the internet giant agreed to censor some search results. At the time, Google indicated they would monitor the situation, and adjust their approach if needed. According to the blog post, “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.”
So starting now, Google says they will stop filtering search results in China. The Mountain View based company plans to discuss with the Chinese government the possibility of operating an unfiltered search engine. If that is not possible, the Google.cn domain may be shut down along with the Chinese Google offices. Is this a good move for Google? Should a commitment to free speech outweigh the lucrative nature of the Chinese market? Or maybe this move is just long overdue.