Google's love-hate relationship with China back on

By Don Reisinger  January 12, 2012 7:27 AM PST

Google and China have had a strained relationship over the years, but now, the search giant is trying to smooth things over a bit.

According to the Wall Street Journal, which sat down with Daniel Alegre, Google's top executive in China, the search company is looking to make a range of moves to expand its presence in China, including hiring more engineers and product managers, and introducing a range of new services to the country's consumers.

Interestingly, Google wants to focus on services that don't require government-imposed censorship. Alegre told the Journal that such services might include product search and other tools the government likely won't take issue with.

Tiptoeing around government regulations has become a reality for Google since the company decided to focus some of its efforts on China years ago.

Then in January 2010, the search giant had had enough after catching flak for censoring search results at Beijing's behest and also falling victim, it said, to incursions by the Chinese hackers. It vowed "a new approach to China" and shifted its service to Hong Kong.

Since then, there hasn't been any love lost between Google and China. Last year, the government-sponsored newspaper The People's Daily, wrote that Google should watch its step after the search giant claimed the Gmail accounts of top U.S. government officials and political activists, among others, were hacked by sources in China.

"Google should not become overly embroiled in international political struggle, playing the role of a tool for political contention," the paper wrote at the time. "For when the international winds shift direction, it may become sacrificed to politics and will be spurned by the marketplace."

Try as it might to stand up to China, from a business perspective, that might not be the best idea for Google. Just yesterday, the China Internet Network Information Center announced that at the end of November, the country's total Internet users reached 505 million people--a number that eclipses the population of many countries. More importantly for Google, over 70 million Chinese citizens are starting to use the Internet each year, providing a huge growth opportunity for the search giant.

It's not just the Web, though. According to Alegre, Google is planning to double down on Android in the hopes of making the operating system a standout in the country. It makes some sense, considering a single carrier in that country--China Mobile--currently has over 644 million subscribers.

Although Alegre seems bullish on Google's China plans, an official spokesperson for the company was tempered in their response to CNET's request for comment, saying the search giant's "position on China remains unchanged."

Originally posted at The Digital Home


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