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Google delays Android launch in China after hacking dispute

Jan 19, 2010 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — views

Google announced that it was delaying the launch of two Android phones in China due to a dispute with the Chinese government over censorship issues. The delay will affect Google-endorsed Android phones from Samsung and Motorola that were to be carried by China Unicom, says an eWEEK story.

The delay comes a week after Google said it would stop censoring its Chinese search portal, and then discovered that that its Chinese Gmail users were being targeted by Chinese hackers, according to earlier eWEEK reports. Google then turned up the heat by threatening to cease operations in the country entirely, and told employees at Google China to take a holiday.

Google is said to have claimed that the Gmail attacks originated in China, suggesting they were inspired, if not carried out, by the Chinese government. The attacks were said by Google to be at least partially aimed at obtaining personal information on Chinese dissidents using Gmail, according to eWEEK.

Now, a Google spokesperson told the AP that a launch ceremony planned for Wednesday would be canceled, according to a story by Clint Boulton in eWEEK's Google Watch column. No reason was given for the delay, but it was widely seen as a further move in the recent chess match between the world's largest search engine and the world's largest country (not to mention mobile market), says the story.

A related eWEEK story today by Roy Mark reports that the U.S. government plans to formally protest to the Chinese government about the network attacks on Google and other companies doing business in China. According to the story, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will issue the formal complaint in conjunction with a major speech on international policy and Internet free speech planned by Clinton for Jan. 21. The U.S. government is concerned not only about Internet censorship but about protecting intellectual property rights of companies doing business in China, where piracy rates are high, says the story.

Boulton's story about the Android launch delay does not mention whether the Motorola and Samsung phones were new phones, existing phones, or modified version of existing Android handsets. Recently announced Motorola Android phones include the Backflip, and a new Motoroi model (pictured at right), which is aimed at Korea. Samsung also released a variety of Android phones last fall, including the Moment

Chinese businesses such as China Unicom "would be loath to work with Google to provide phones with the government looking at it with a cautionary eye, if not clandestine threats," writes Boulton in today's story. In an earlier story speculating on the impact of the dispute on the growth of the Android phone market in China, he quotes various analysts speculating that China would only crack down on companies trying to sell Android devices with Google branding, i.e. those phones that offer Gmail, Google Maps, Google Talk, and Google Voice.

Google-branded phones include Motorola and Samsung models to date, as well as Google's own Nexus One phone, which is currently being offered only in the United States. Other phones that instead use the China-centric oPhone version of Android offered by China Mobile, such as the Dell Mini 3 (pictured at left) would not appear to be affected.

Google's search engine currently controls 43 percent of the Chinese search market, trailing Chinese search firm Baidu, which holds 56 percent, and currently Google earns only about 1-2 percent of its total revenues in China, according to an earlier story by Boulton over the impact on Google's search business in China. However, with some 360 million web users, China is fertile ground for mobile advertising opportunities, not to mention Android phones, says the story.

A sudden reversal

According to a TradingMarkets story last July, both Apple and Google have been lobbying hard with Chinese carriers for access to China's market for the iPhone and Android-based HTC phones, respectively. China Telecom and China Mobile were said to have approved HTC's Magic and Hero Android phones, enabling Android phones to beat the iPhone to the China market, said the story.

Android phones were still in the hunt, despite Google's having being chastised by the Chinese government last year for allowing pornography searches, said the story at the time. China has embraced open source for many years now, and seems more amenable to the open-ended approach than dealing exclusively with a single foreign corporation like Apple or Microsoft.

Last year's criticism of Google by China followed an earlier — and widely criticized — capitulation by Google and other firms in accepting a government-approved search filter some four years ago. The filter was touted by the Chinese government as primarily being implemented to filter porn, but has also been widely reported to have limited access to dissident or controversial websites.

Not so easy to be not so evil

So far, the response to Google's latest move has been largely positive in mainstream journalism, but more critical in the business and technology press. After all, from the biztech view, losing money is considered the ultimate sin.

Yet Google is perhaps looking at a longer-term strategy. From Google's unique perceptive, presenting itself as the "don't be evil" company is not only important to its founders, but also essential to the company's long-term marketing campaign.

The company had no doubt hoped that it would see more progress toward free speech in China after getting its foot in the door in China four years ago, despite China's restrictions, and the widespread criticism of the move harmed their "Don't worry: We're not Microsoft" image.

Yet today, there is little evidence of China opening up to free speech, and Google may believe that by pushing oPhone, Beijing plans to take advantage of open source to circumvent the power of Google and other large handset vendors. Meanwhile, Baidu is holding its own in the search market there. So why not earn a few style points if China's not going to let you in anyway?


Today's Google Watch story about Google's delayed Android announcement should be here, and today's eWEEK story about a U.S. government protest against the Chinese hack attacks should be here.

Earlier eWEEK stories on the potential impact of the China flap on Android may be found here, and a story on the impact on Google's search business in China should be here.

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