After Google, another US Web firm cuts back in China

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Two days after Google halted censorship in China, another leading US Internet company, Go Daddy, said it was cutting back on its activities there because of Chinese regulations.

Go Daddy, the largest Web domain name registrar in the world, is no longer registering names in China because of “chilling” new requirements imposed by the Chinese authorities, executive vice president Christine Jones said on Wednesday.

Jones also told a hearing of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China that Go Daddy was one of the companies hit by Chinese-based cyberattacks in December that contributed to Google’s decision to stop self-censorship there.

Representative Chris Smith, a Republican from New Jersey, praised Google and Go Daddy at the hearing here for “doing the right thing in China” and urged other US companies, specifically Microsoft, to follow their lead.

Related article: Foreign firms ponder China future

“Google fired a shot heard ’round the world, and now a second American company has answered the call to defend the rights of the Chinese people,” Smith said.

Google announced Monday it had effectively closed its Chinese-language search engine in China, Google.cn, and begun redirecting mainland Chinese users to an uncensored site in Hong Kong.

Chronology: Google’s operations in China

Alan Davidson, Google’s director of public policy, told the hearing the Hong Kong site is already being censored.

“We are well aware that the Chinese government can, at any time, block access to our services — indeed we have already seen intermittent censorship of certain search queries on both Google.com.hk and Google.com,” he said.

Davidson also echoed a call made by Google co-founder Sergey Brin for new rules to govern trade in the online world.

Brin said in an interview with the British newspaper The Guardian that Chinese regulations that prevent companies from being competitive in China should be considered a “trade barrier.”

“Since services and information are our most successful exports, if regulations in China effectively prevent us from being competitive, then they are a trade barrier,” Brin said.

Davidson said governments “need to develop a full set of new trade rules to address new trade barriers.

“We should continue to look for effective ways to address unfair foreign trade barriers in the online world: to use trade agreements, trade tools, and trade diplomacy to promote the free flow of information on the Internet.”

Brin and Davidson’s comments came after TOM Online, the Internet company owned by Hong Kong’s richest man, Li Ka-shing, severed ties with Google.

TOM, which runs online and mobile Internet services in mainland China, said that “as a Chinese company, we adhere to rules and regulations in China where we operate our businesses.”

TOM’s move sparked concerns other companies may also pull away from the Web giant. On Thursday the Financial Times reported that China Unicom, the country’s second largest mobile phone operator, will jettison Google’s search function from new handsets.

The move is the first concrete result of Google’s decision to shut down its Chinese search engine on Monday.

“We are willing to work with any company that abides by Chinese law…. We don’t have any cooperation with Google currently,” the Financial Times quoted China Unicom president Lu Yimin as saying.

China has attacked Google for stopping censorship but said there should be no broader fall-out in Sino-US ties provided the issue is not politicized in the United States.

Go Daddy’s Jones said the company has been authorized since April 2005 by the China Internet Network Information Centre (CNNIC) to offer registration services for .cn domain names.

The .cn suffix is a Top Level Domain for China like .com and individuals or companies seeking to create a Web address are required to go through a registrar such as Go Daddy, which has 40 million domain names under management.

Jones said Go Daddy collects contact information of individuals or companies registering a domain name including their full name, address, telephone number and email address.

Four months ago, however, CNNIC required registrants of new .cn names to provide color headshot photos, a Chinese business registration number and signed registration forms, she said.

She said Go Daddy is “concerned for the security of the individuals affected by CNNIC’s new requirements, as well as for the chilling effect we believe the requirements will have on new .cn domain name registrations.

“For these reasons, we have decided to discontinue offering new .cn domain names at this time,” Jones said. “We didn’t want to act as an agent of the Chinese government.”

Jones also said that Go Daddy was one of more than 30 companies hit by the cyberattacks in December that Google said originated in China. “We’ve had a couple of dozen since the first of the year as well,” she said.

“The Google attack was aimed at infiltrating email accounts,” she said. “The attack on our system is designed to disable websites somebody doesn’t like.”

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