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June 01, 2011

Clinton: Google's China Hacking Claims 'Very Serious'

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says that Google's allegations of Chinese hacking of its email system are "very serious" and will be investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Clinton told reporters on Thursday the Obama administration was disturbed by the charges, which the Internet giant says include breaches of email accounts belonging to senior U.S. officials.

Listen to Clinton's statement on Google's hacking allegation

The Chinese government has strongly rejected the claim, calling it "unacceptable" for Google to blame China for trying to steal the email account passwords of top U.S. government officials, Chinese activists and journalists.

To learn more about what's behind this latest confrontation between Beijing and Google, VOA's Victor Beattie spoke with Jeremy Goldkorn, a media researcher, consultant and operator of the website Danwei.org.

Who do you think the hackers could be?

"The hackers who are alleged to have committed this latest attack on Google users, on gmail users, may or may not be government employees. I would be very surprised if the people who did the hack actually worked for the government. It doesn't mean that they're not in touch with the government, it doesn't mean that they're somehow not associated with the government. But they may very well be citizens either acting on their own or in some kind of loose collaboration with one or another government agency. It makes it very difficult to understand who they are [and] pin them down. And it makes it very difficult to talk to the Chinese government about what's going on."

What do you think they are looking for?

"Judging from the statements made by Google, it looks like they were gathering intelligence on the activities of foreign nationals, particularly those in government jobs. And also possibly on journalists and activists who are operating in China."

And what would they do with this information?

"I don't know. I would imagine certainly in the case of activists and journalists, there's a lot of interest in China in the moment about what activists and journalists are up to because the  government is very suspicious of both of these groups being in an attempt to launch a so-called 'Jasmine Revolution' in China.  So, bearing in mind what's been going on in China the last few months, this would seem to me to possibly be an aim of these hacks. But aside from that, it's only speculation."

What is the future of independent search engines in China?

"Google, whose server for their Chinese service is no longer in China and have been losing market share ever since they pulled the server from the mainland and moved it to Hong Kong, is a small part of the search engines' scene here.  The biggest one here in Baidu.com, which has upwards of 70-percent of the user market share of search engines. They are an independent, publicly-listed company. They are not a government agency. And they appear to be operating in China without a problem."

Does that mean there is some flaw in Google's operation?

"It depends on what you mean by flaw. Google has had a very difficult time adapting to the local conditions in the Chinese market. And a big part of that is because the government regulates or interferes with Internet companies to a very great degree in China. So Internet companies are responsible for self-censoring their content. And if you're not willing to self-censor, you will not get a license to operate in China. Google eventually came to the point where they announced they weren't willing to carry on doing that. It is a very tough market by itself. It's not an easy market to operate in as a business. In addition to the problems of creating a successful Internet business here in a very competitive landscape, you also have the problem of a very great amount of government scrutiny and regulation."