Google has confirmed that China is blocking its mobile internet services on the mainland, in the first concrete sign that Beijing is stepping up pressure after the search engine last week ended its compliance with the Chinese censors.
Google on Monday switched the status of its mobile services to “partially blocked” from “no issues” on an internal website designed to track the availability of its services in China. The company last week shifted its mainland search engine to Hong Kong to avoid having to comply with censorship restrictions on the mainland.
Google said the availability of its mobile services had started to “fluctuate”. It was unclear whether the disruptions would continue.
While there was some anecdotal evidence that China became more aggressive in filtering searches last week, the announcement by the US internet company on Monday was the first acknowledgement that its services were being blocked.
Some users in China last week observed that relatively non-sensitive Google searches would sometimes produce browser error messages. When they repeated the search on other engines – such as Microsoft’s Bing – there was no error message and they received at least some results.
While some people in China said the Chinese censors were being more stringent than the standard filtering of online content from outside China, Google last week was unable to confirm that. Previously, the company had also not reported any outright blocking of its services.
The continued availability of Google services in China last week came despite an angry initial response from some officials. That was taken in some quarters as a sign that the authorities would hesitate before taking strong retaliatory measures.
However, David Drummond, Google’s chief legal officer, said it was too early to conclude that China had decided against taking strong action. Speaking before the company reported the mobile services blocking on Monday, he added that it would take time before the company could determine the extent of the Chinese government response.
The move by the authorities to target mobiles appeared aimed at services that many observers believe hold the greatest long-term potential for reaching China’s booming internet population, thanks to the growth of mobile internet access. The partial blocking has hit all of the services that Google delivers to mobile phones, including search.
By contrast, the company continued to report on Monday that its search, news and image services for computer users, all of which were moved to Hong Kong last week, had not suffered any outright blocking. Google added that its YouTube and Blogger services continued to be blocked in China, as they had been before its shift on censorship.
Additional reporting by Kathrin Hille in Beijing
Get alerts on Technology sector when a new story is published