Google starts losing business partners in China

Tom Online ended a search engine pact with Google and now uses Baidu.com

Google's decision to stop censoring Internet search results in China has apparently led to one business casualty already, the end of a search agreement with Tom Online.

Tom Online, which runs the popular Chinese Web portal Tom.com, has turned to Google's main search rival in China, Baidu.com, for Internet searches from its site. The company said the reason it switched to Baidu is because an agreement with Google expired, but Google's search was on the site as of the end of last week.

"Tom has stopped using Google's search services after the expiry of agreement," the company's parent, Tom Group, said in a statement. "Tom reiterated that as a Chinese company, we adhere to rules and regulations in China where we operate our businesses."

By deciding not to censor Internet searches in China, Google has become a pariah when it comes to working with Chinese companies. Companies operating in China are required by law to censor Internet search results. Google's partners in China, especially companies that use Google search on their Web sites, could run afoul of the law if they continue using Google's new uncensored search site.

A Chinese official has said Google was "totally wrong" to violate a written promise to follow Chinese Internet regulations it made when it entered the Chinese market.

Google has other search deals in China, including with the world's largest cellular phone service provider, China Mobile, to provide mobile search on certain handsets. China Mobile representatives did not return calls or e-mails requesting comment on its future plans with Google. The company is majority state-owned, making it unlikely Google's search pacts there will survive.

Sina.com.cn, another major Chinese portal, was unable to be reached for comment. Google's logo and search continue to be used on the Sina.com.cn Web site, and searches are rerouted through to Google's uncensored Hong Kong site, Google.com.hk.

Google on Monday announced an end to search censorship at its China Web site, saying all queries will now be redirected to its site dedicated to Hong Kong, which is part of China but operates under a different set of laws that protect free speech. Google has said the decision came after the company was hit by sophisticated cyber attacks that were able to access the Gmail e-mail accounts of dozens of human rights activists connected with China, in addition to the limits on free speech and persistent blocking of Web sites including YouTube, Google Docs and Blogger.

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