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Google-China move hurts businesses, academics

By Lara Farrar, CNN
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Google shutting China search engine
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Chinese businesses and universities could be affected by Google departure
  • Academics, students and researchers rely heavily on Google's search services
  • Most of China's 400 million Internet users, however, wouldn't be affected

Beijing, China (CNN) -- Businesses and universities could be substantially affected by the departure of Google from China.

Most of the country's nearly 400 million Internet users may not be affected by the closure. But academics, university students and other researchers rely heavily on Google's search services to access information not available through Chinese search engines, like Baidu.com, China's most popular search portal. Small businesses that depend on Google applications such as Google Docs and Gmail may also suffer, analysts said.

A recent survey of more than 700 Chinese scientists conducted by the journal Nature found that 80 percent regularly use Google to search for academic papers while 60 percent said they use the site to stay on top of new research.

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"Students who care more about searching for quality information choose to use Google because it definitely provides better search results than Baidu," said Xin Liu, a recent graduate of Fudan University in Shanghai. "It will force more and more students to use wall-climbing software."

Special circumvention software, such as virtual private networks (VPNs) and proxies, have become increasingly popular among Internet users in China who want to break through the "Great Firewall," as the country's filtering system is known, to access Web sites already blocked by the government.

China state media: Google decision 'totally wrong'

Analysts say the use of such tools could dramatically increase if China bars access to Google's overseas search services in Hong Kong or the United States. On Monday, Google closed its Chinese site and began redirecting its users there to its Hong Kong-based search engine.

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None of the Chinese search engines are good at searching the international Internet in English
--Jeremy Goldkorn, founder of Danwei.org
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So far, the site has not been blocked. Yet queries for sensitive words are blocked when searched from Beijing, an indicator China is already filtering the portal.

"If people can use overseas services, the impact will not be that great," said Jeremy Goldkorn, founder of the Chinese media site Danwei.org.

"If the filtering increases in any way from the past, it is going to be a problem because none of the Chinese search engines are good at searching the international Internet in English. That is going to impact anyone who relies on that," Goldkorn said.

Others say they are worried Google applications, including its popular Gmail service and document sharing service Google Docs, could eventually be banned.

"They are now one step closer to being blocked," said Frank Yu, a Beijing-based Internet analyst. "We depend on this whole series of services for translation and storing documents. They are essential for running a small business or a startup."

A Google departure could also decrease Chinese engineering talent, said Yu.

"Google trains a lot of engineers," he said. "Sure, there are a lot of competent people here but now there is one less multinational that hires graduates and trains them at a higher level."

A journalism professor at a Chinese university, who asked not to be named, said "some of my friends say what a pity if Google pulls out of China because they rely heavily on resources including Google Scholars and Google Books.

"It is also true working journalists, especially those who cover international news. I think it is great pity that this might happen," he added.