Google, and its unofficial slogan, Don’t be evil, may be calling it quits in China due to repeated cyber-attacks (now being dubbed Aurora) that the company says originated within China’s borders. The attacks were reported to target up to 34 companies total, including Adobe Systems and other technology firms based in the U.S according to today’s Wall Street Journal.
Google’s Chief Legal Officer, David Drummond, made it clear in the company’s official statement that the attacks were deliberate, complex, and specifically targeted email accounts of human rights activists within China. Below is an excerpt from Mr. Drummond’s statement:
…we have evidence to suggest that a primary goal of the attackers was accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. Based on our investigation to date we believe their attack did not achieve that objective. Only two Gmail accounts appear to have been accessed, and that activity was limited to account information (such as the date the account was created) and subject line, rather than the content of emails themselves.
Google.cn (the version for China) was released in January 2006 to offer more information to the country’s citizens, however there were restrictions and China required some results to be censored. The benefits of what the search engine could offer to millions of Chinese people outweighed the issues of censorship, and Google stated that it would abide by the nation’s laws and continue operations unless over-censorship and restrictions on Google’s services would force them to reconsider an approach to China. While not pointing fingers, the attacks were highly sophisticated and resulted in the theft of intellectual property from Google. Something that most information assurance professionals agree would be difficult to do as an amateur hacker from within China.
JP Morgan estimates that a pull out will mean a loss in up to $600 million in revenues this year, a figure that many pundits consider overstated. However, a Chinese market research firm claimed that Google earned over $140,000,000 USD in the first three quarters of 2008, and China’s search revenue potential is undisputed in the billions of dollars. Drummond calls these revenues “immaterial” and says the company’s entry into China “was never a financial move for us.”
Google’s official statement on the matter can be viewed here.
While companies are aligning with Google’s stance now, other tech giants from the U.S. fell on their swords when pressure from China meant millions in revenues, but at an inexcusable cost to humanity. On the eve of the 15th anniversary of the Tienanmen Square Massacre, the Chinese government forbid journalists from covering anything related to this anniversary. This notice was sent by email message. By clicking “forward” in his Yahoo! email account and sending the message to an offshore group promoting democracy in China, Shi Tao, might as well have hung a white flag from his apartment window. Mr. Tao’s email information was disclosed by Yahoo! giving Chinese police a roadmap to his front door. Shi Tao is now spending a 10 year sentence in a deplorable Chinese prison.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman (and former holocaust survivor) Tom Lantos, hammered Yahoo’s executive team at a hearing where Yahoo allegedly provided false information to congress regarding the extent of knowledge held by Yahoo! and the nature of the investigation into Shi Tao by the Chinese government upon their request for information about his email account. In the hearing, Congressman Lantos urged Yahoo!’s Chief Executive Officer Jerry Yang and General Counsel Michael Callahan to beg forgiveness from the mother of Shi Tao, who happened to be sitting directly behind them in the first row. Representatives from Cisco, Microsoft, and Google were in the room.
See the verbatim statement from the late Chairman Lantos here.
China strong armed two American businessmen and the regime got what it wanted from Yahoo!, but this time there was a higher morale code, a promise Larry Page and Sergey Brin – the founders of Google – said they would uphold. Perhaps it was the upbringing of Page and Brin, both of Jewish decent and Brin emigrating from Russia when he was 6 years old, where his father was unable to become an astronomer due to Communist Party heads barring Jewish intellectuals from high professional ranks. Is it a sign of a new decade, a new outlook, and time for a major public company to remember the human element, set the hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue aside, and have the courage to say exactly why? Or maybe it was all part of the plan from the beginning; gain a stronghold in China, and use technology to bring about non-violent reform.
Regardless of what the reason is, today is a great day to be proud of what we hope to be the new Corporate America.