After assuming the worst with its China operations, Google on Thursday evening backed off accusations of censorship in the communist nation. Google said earlier Thursday that the Chinese government was blocking its search engine, Google Mobile, and Google Ad products. Google also said its news and image services were being "partially blocked."
However, Google apparently rushed to judgment. Later in the day, Google officials said the blockage levels were misreported by the company's internal tracking system.
"Because of the way we measure accessibility in China, it's possible that our machines can overestimate the level of blockage," Google said Friday. "That appears to be what happened last night when there was a relatively small blockage. It appears now that users in China are accessing our properties normally."
The Dramatic History
Thursday's snafu is the latest twist in the ongoing saga featuring Google and China. It all began in January, when Google made a strong move against communist China by refusing to continue censoring search results on its Chinese site. In the wake of cyberattacks it linked to China, Google also said it would consider shutting down operations in the Asian nation.
Google revealed a highly sophisticated and targeted attack on its corporate infrastructure that originated from China in December. That attack, Google said, resulted in theft of the search giant's intellectual property. In its internal investigations, Google discovered it wasn't the only target. Large companies from many industries were also hit. Google is working to notify those companies and is working with U.S. authorities.
The cyberattacks, which largely targeted the Gmail accounts of Chinese human-rights activists, seem to have fueled Google's decision to stand up for freedom of speech in the communist nation. Two days after Google threatened to stop doing business in China, the nation's leadership signaled it would not compromise.
Google's response was to redirect traffic to its uncensored Hong Kong search engine.
In June, Google reversed its stance as it sought to renew its license to operate in China. That's because the Chinese government found Google's redirect unacceptable and let the search engine giant know it would not renew its license if it kept redirecting users. Google would have effectively gone dark in China.
Google Crying Wolf?
So what really happened Thursday? And will Google get backlash for the accusation from the Chinese government? There may be more questions than answers.
"Tweets out of China yesterday revealed there was in fact access in many, if not most, places. Yet the story was Google is being blocked by China," said Greg Sterling, principal analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence. "Bloggers ran with the story -- and Google fueled it to some degree -- because of the recently tense history between China and Google. There was also the "Google's license was approved but now the site is being blocked?" confusion and contradiction.
In the end, nothing really happened, Sterling said. It was a minor outage, but there was a too-quick and fairly massive overreaction. Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, agreed.
"We forget Google is still a very young company and the end result is they haven't developed the kind of processes that older firms typically have in place to avoid these mistakes," Enderle said. "Google also hasn't learned that it's not wise to continue to anger large governments. It is unfortunate and it was a mistake. It's like they are crying wolf now. If they wanted any support from anyone in their China conflict, they are quickly burning that credit up."