In most places, Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) is a lifeline for many people in search of answers to almost any query. However, for China, they’ve had to manage without the search engine giant since 2010, when the site’s local url, google.cn, was blocked.
According to local media sources, it appears that over the weekend, the homepage of the Chinese Google domain was quietly made accessible. However, an update by the South China Morning Post found that on Tuesday morning local time, URL requests for google.cn were automatically rerouted to google.hk, the Hong Kong home page, which was the normal practice after Google and China parted ways in 2010 over a censorship battle. Still, the Post found that the mainland homepage was still accessible on mobile devices.
While the loosening grip on Google is seen as a just a small win for both Chinese users and the tech giant, many in China’s blogosphere were excited because the search engine had previously also been blocked on hand-held devices.
Google has taken a firm stance against censorship, particularly with the Chinese. When Google began its venture into China, it became clear that the government would want overarching control over the site's search returns, the way it does over many locally built alternatives, like China’s biggest search engine, Baidu. Ahead of China and Google’s official split, many found that searches for controversial topics like “Tiananmen Square massacre” on the mainland had been manipulated to exclude photos or articles that would show the country in a bad light.
The under-the-radar development coincided with Google’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt’s remarks on censorship last week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “[Encryption could] open up countries with strict censorship laws,” Schmidt said on the subject of ending censorship.
“Considering Schmidt’s comments and google.cn’s brief comeback, does it signal that Google’s return could now be possible?” one blogger asked.
Still, access to the homepage is just the beginning of many steps to gain a censorship-free search return. For now, any queries still redirect to the Hong Kong site, which remains independent from Chinese government control.