Google threatens to leave China after massive cyberattacks

Google today said that a "highly sophisticated and targeted" attack against its network last month originated in China, and tried to access the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists.

In a Tuesday, David Drummond, 's chief legal officer, said that attacks have forced the company to "review the feasibility of our business operations in China." Google, continued Drummond, is "no longer willing to continue censoring our results on, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all."

The end result of those discussions, said Drummond, may be that Google shuts down its search engine and close its offices in the People's Republic of China.

"This is a bold and a very difficult move on [Google's] part," said Leslie Harris, the president and CEO of the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT), a Washington, D.C.-based civil liberties group. "But with the revelations that there have been major cyber attacks aimed at human rights activists, both in China and in the West, it's hard to see how Google could have remained silent."

According to Drummond, Google was one of at least 20 large companies that were targeted by massive attacks in December. In Google's case, the attacks resulted in the theft of some company intellectual property.

More troubling, said Drummond, was that the attacks were aimed at accessing the Gmail accounts of human rights activists in China. Gmail is officially unavailable in the country, but activists and others use anonymous proxies to circumvent that rule.