Gemma Houghton

Google in China – A Timeline

As Google announces its withdrawl from the Chinese market, this post highlights some of the key events in Google’s ten year history in the country.

2000 – A Chinese language version of is launched – and over the next few years is often blocked or at least temporarily unavailable. It does not have widespread usage in the country.

January 2006 Google releases a new site in China – – that will block content prohibited by the government, complying with China’s censorship policies.

Sergey Brin defends the decision by saying that by doing so, they are making sure Google is still available to people in China and that otherwise around 50% of users can’t access the search engine due to the great firewall of China. However, the decision is proclaimed morally wrong by many – especially given Google’s “Don’t be Evil” mantra.

Google continues to make available in China – however the site is still often blocked and made inaccessible to users.

January 2007 – Google founders admit that the decision to censor its Chinese search engine had damaged the company’s reputation in the US and Europe.

Eric Schmidt states that Google is making significant progress in China and is on track to become the leading search engine in the country. However, in 2007  Google has around 20% market share in China, compared with 57% for Baidu, China’s own search engine so it still has a way to go.

Early 2008 – Google receives more bad press about its China operations when Chinese human rights activist Guo Quan threatens to sue the search engine for blocking his name and making him unsearchable in China. He claims they have violated his political rights but Google defends its actions by saying it is complying with the conditions of doing business in China.

March 2008 – China overtakes the USA to become the world’s largest internet market, with over 220 million users and in 2008 the number of .cn domains grows by 51% to become second only to .com in number. Its easy to see why Google are prepared to sacrifice some morals in order to remain a major player in such a huge market.

Google, along with Yahoo and Microsoft, signs an industry code of ethics to safeguard human rights and the freedom of speech online. However, Google does continue to censor results on

June 2009 – For the first time in years, Chinese authorities block Google, citing pornography as the reason. Google- owned video site YouTube is also blocked.

July, 2009 – The Chinese government delays the launch of its controversial censorship software which it was insisting be installed on every computer in China. Green Dam is designed to block “harmful content” however has been strongly opposed by governments around the world. No new date for launch is announced.

January, 2010 –  Google threatens to pull out of China following a cyber attack on the gmail accounts of human rights activists, that originated in the country. It describes the attack as highly sophisticated and targeted, and claims that it will no longer continue to censor its search results.

However, the search engine states it will enter talks with the Chinese government to enable it to remain in China but asserts that it wishes to stay in the country.

Following the attacks, Google postpones the launch of Nexus One, its answer to the iphone, in China – a big move given the size of the mobile market in China and the potential revenue available.

 March, 2010  Google redirects its search engine to Google Hong Kong stating, as reported at, that it believes this makes its position ‘legal’.

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Gemma Houghton

Gemma Houghton

Director of Marketing at Webcertain
Gemma has worked in international search markteing for over 10 years and is Director of Marketing at Webcertain, overseeing all marketing activities for the Group. She also organises and programs Webcertain's International Search Summit, a search marketing conference focusing on international and multilingual online marketing which runs across Europe and the US. Gemma is currently studying with the Chartered Management Institute to acheive a Diploma in Management and Leadership. She holds a Professional Diploma in Marketing from the Chartered Institute of Marketing and a BA Joint Honors Degree in French and German.