China renews Google's license, free speech advocates debate principled engagement

The government of China this week decided to renew Google's web license. The official Google announcement is here, and background on the story at Wired News, Reuters, and Washington Post.

Rebecca MacKinnon has this analysis:

While a number of commentators are interpreting this as a "climbdown" or "wimp out" by Google, I don't understand how they have reached that conclusion. As I pointed out last week, the only thing that has changed since March is that after typing "" into the browser's address bar and hitting "return," users have to make one extra click before reaching the uncensored While the page now includes links to music, translation, and shopping services, the search box you see there on the page is just a static image that takes you immediately to as soon as you click on it. If you have grade school literacy in Chinese it's extremely obvious from looking at that page that if you want to search anything other than music or shopping you can simply click through to I don't see how adding the extra click prevents users of Google's general search from using the service any more than the direct redirection from to which Google implemented in March. Of course, if you are searching from inside China and don't know that you can add an "s" to the "http:" in the address box and avail yourself of the "https" encrypted function that make your searches invisible to the Chinese network operators, searches on politically sensitive terms will get blocked by the Great Firewall. But that has been true since the redirection began. It hasn't changed. So Google's change implemented last week has no substantive impact on what Chinese Internet users can or cannot access via

The change has, however, brought them into technical compliance with the regulations. And the authorities – for whatever reason – have decided that this change is sufficient despite the fact that in spirit Google is no closer to compliance with their wishes than it was in late March.

On Google's license renewal and principled engagement (rconversation)