It's like something out of an espionage novel. Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) has accused China of blocking some Gmail messages sent within the country.
"There is no technical issue on our side; we have checked extensively. This is a government blockage carefully designed to look like the problem is with Gmail," a company spokesperson told InformationWeek in an emailed statement.
Accusations don't get much more serious than that. Interestingly, the report is consistent with a December release on WikiLeaks that showed a concerted effort by Chinese leadership to hack U.S. websites, including Google. Break out the tux and martini mix, Mr. Bond.
Google has tussled with Chinese officials before over censorship, and its near-exit from operations in the Sino Superpower has led to big gains for hometown search hero Baidu (Nasdaq: BIDU ) . This feels like Round 2 of a long-term fight.
China isn't about to back down. Reuters reports a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman calling the accusations "unacceptable" without elaborating. Maybe, but there's no denying that censorship of Chinese websites has intensified in the wake of calls for protests inspired by successful uprisings the Middle East.
For Google and its investors, the whole affair probably doesn't amount to much. But there's also context to consider. What happens when China decides to censor e-commerce as much as it censors content? What happens when you can't buy goods from certain companies because officials deem their sites worth blocking?
Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN ) , Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO ) , and every other U.S. e-commerce company with Chinese operations has something to lose here, which means that what looks like a China-Google affair today won't stay that way forever.
Do you agree? Disagree? Let us know what you think about Google's stance on censorship and China's alleged assault on Gmail using the comments box below.
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