A Google search feature was blocked in China yesterday, the company said as it awaited Beijing’s decision on whether to renew its operating license amid tensions over censorship.
Chinese users were unable to use the “suggest” feature, which offers possible results as they start to type a query, the company said.
“It appears that search queries produced by Google Suggest are being blocked for mainland users in China,” Google spokeswoman Jessica Powell said in an e-mail. “Normal searches that do not use query suggestions are unaffected.”
Google’s relations with Beijing have been tense since the US-based search giant said in January it no longer wanted to cooperate with Chinese Web filtering following hacking attacks traced to China.
Google Inc closed its China-based search engine on March 22 and began routing users to its unfiltered Hong Kong site. However, the company stopped automatic switching this week because Beijing objected and threatened to revoke its operating license.
The application deadline was Wednesday, and Powell said Google has received no word from regulators. She said the license runs through 2012, but must be renewed annually and declined to say what Google’s status is while it awaits an answer.
Xinhua news agency said “there will be a result soon,” adding that Google was “very late” in submitting the application.
Phone calls to the regulator, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, were not answered.
The China site Google.cn was operating yesterday with a tab that said “we have moved to google.com.hk.” Clicking on that took users to the Hong Kong site.
The loss of its Chinese license would set back Google’s efforts to tap into the world’s most populous Internet market of about 400 million users. Web surfers could reach the Chinese-language Hong Kong site by typing in its address, but industry analysts say some are likely to switch to Chinese competitors such as Baidu Inc.
Google, based in Mountain View, California, has about 30 percent of China’s search market, versus Baidu’s 60 percent. Analysts say the shutdown of its China search engine had little impact on revenues but the outright closure of Google.cn could hurt advertising sales.
The government promotes Internet use for education and business, but tries to block material deemed subversive or pornographic. It has temporarily blocked access to Google in the past after accusing it of spreading sexually explicit material.
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