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Google was probably hoping its Chinese troubles would fade into memory but events seem to be conspiring it after its main search engine, Google.com, appeared to have fallen foul of the country’s authorities once again.

Chinese internet users reported serious problems using the international search engine, prompting speculation it is being disrupted by government censors.

Although China rarely announces which websites are being screened, the problems suffered by Google are similar to other censored sites.

Google was blocked entirely by the government in 2002, but was reinstated after worldwide protests. However, bloggers suspected that the state was up to its old tricks again because it had been emboldened to act against Google’s main website after the company set up a censored China-based version of its search engine, Google.cn.

Google.cn continued unaffected - although if Google’s own estimates are right that only 1 per cent of Chinese users use Google.cn, government agents may be the only people enjoying the smooth service.

When Google announced Google.cn earlier this year it prompted a furore among webheads who saw Google as a one of the foremost cheerleaders for a free internet, famous for its “Don’t be evil” corporate motto.

If Google thought it could appease China’s rulers with the censored site this weeks actions could prove the plan to be misguided - and according to blogger Peijin Chen on shanghaiist.com there were Chinese press reports that the company may rethink its whole China strategy after Google co-founder Sergey Brin revealed misgivings about sacrificing principle for profit in China.

Mr Brin said on Tuesday: “It’s perfectly reasonable to do something different, to say, ‘Look, we’re going to stand by the principle against censorship and we won’t actually operate there.’ That’s an alternate path. It’s not where we chose to go right now, but I can sort of see how people came to different conclusions about doing the right thing.”

But the Chinese Foreign Ministry responded succinctly: “China welcomes foreign Internet companies working in China, but they must respect and abide by the country’s laws, including those on expression.”

Some commentators said Google was essentially setting a time limit on the strategy in the hope China will eventually be shamed into reducing censorship.

“It sounds like...Google is now...essentially putting China on a shorter leash as stories emerge about the spread in scope of censorship and the lack of availability of Google.com in most Chinese provinces,” said Andrew on traffick.com.

Google later played down Mr Brin’s comments after they sparked speculation the company was abandoning ship. Google said that too much had been read into Mr Brin’s remarks and that they would not be leaving China anytime soon.

“If Google’s stock stops rising, all its moral superiority will be of little avail. I don’t think investors should worry about a change in Google’s China strategy,” said Peter Cohan on bloggingstocks.com.

San Andreas fault

The makers of the hit video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas were not made to pay for their indiscretions in what has become known as the “Hot Coffee” scandal.

Take-Two Interactive will not receive a fine for including hidden sex scenes in the game (no screen shots could penetrate the company firewall!) following a settlement with the US Federal Trade Commission, who had alleged that the game had been inappropriately marketed as suitable for minors.

Instead, the parent company of the game’s designer Rockstar agreed not to misrepresent a game’s age rating or content in future and to submit future games to review by ratings authorities. Read the ruling here.

The company has already paid $24.5m on the recall and re-issue of San Andreas subsequent to the content’s discovery. Any future infractions will be charged at $11,000 per game sold.

The infamous Hot Coffee scene was a mini game formally designed by Rockstar but only accessible by third party software available for download.

“So they claim that with a copy of GTA, and some simple downloads form the Internet could get explicit scenes of sex. I’m no expert, but I think you don’t need GTA, to with some simple downloads from the Internet get explicit scenes of sex,” commented a respondent on edge-online.co.uk, a video games culture website.

I think the issue here is that Rockstar deliberately lied about putting the content in in the first place. I think things would have been a lot easier if it admitted that it was put in there as a possible feature, but withdrawn due to whatever reasons,” said lotharhex on a LiveJournal forum.

However, others argued that third party modules should not determine the rating of a game.

“I don’t know how many times I say it, but IT DOESN’T COUNT AS CONTENT IF YOU NEED A THIRD PARTY MOD TO UNLOCK IT,” screamed enmitywithin.

Whatever your opinion, don’t be surprised if the next installment of Grand Theft Auto is set at a vicar’s tea party!

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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