BEIJING: A Google search feature was blocked in China yesterday, the company said as it awaited the Chinese government’s decision on whether to renew its operating licence amid tensions over censorship.
Google said mainland users were unable to use the search giant’s “suggest” feature, which offers possible results as they start to type in a query.
When it works, the feature may offer Chinese users a reminder that “Tiananmen Square massacre pictures” are available — but perhaps blocked — when they simply start typing in “Tiananmen.”
“It appears that search queries produced by Google Suggest are being blocked for mainland users in China,” Google spokesman Jessica Powell said in an e-mail. “Normal searches that do not use query suggestions are unaffected.”
Although Google services such as YouTube do get blocked from time to time, the new constraints are seen as the latest example of China using its power to make Google’s search engine a less convenient option on the mainland.
Google has this week stopped automatically redirecting traffic from mainland China to its Hong Kong site after the government warned the manoeuvre could result in the loss of the company’s Internet licence in the country.
Google’s relations with Beijing have been deteriorating since the US-based search giant took a stand against the government’s online censorship rules in response to computer hacking attacks that the company traced to China.
Google closed its China-based search engine March 22 and began routing users to its unfiltered site in Hong Kong. With the shift, Google hoped to be able to maintain its technological toe-hold in one of the Internet’s most important markets while sticking to its free-speech principles.
But China’s threats to take away Google’s licence indicate it may punish Google for its defiance, even if the retaliation undermines the country’s efforts to encourage more technological innovation.
Losing the Chinese licence would be a significant setback for Google, even though China will only account for a fraction of the company’s projected US$28bil (RM95bil) in revenue this year.
China already has emerged as the Internet’s most populous market with nearly 400 million websurfers, and usage is expected to rise for years to come. — AP
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