Google: China will help lead the Internet revolution

China now has 440 million Internet users, 300 million of which are mobile Internet users

Google may have shutdown its China-based search engine months ago, but the U.S. company is still keen on providing new web services for users in the country.

China has the fastest growing Internet population in the world, at 440 million users, making it the "heart of the future of the Internet," said Alan Eustace, the company's senior vice president of engineering and research, who spoke in Beijing on Tuesday.

"I feel like we are in a special place, we have a brand new technology and we've taken a few steps of a very long journey," he said of the Internet. "I feel like we are at the very beginning and China, in my opinion, will lead much of that revolution."

Eustace made the comments as Google has pulled back part of its operations in the country. Google had originally maintained a China-based search engine at Google.cn, which provided censored results in order to comply with Chinese authorities. But in March, the company announced it would stop censoring its search results in China. This led to the shutdown of Google.cn. Now the site provides a link to the company's Hong Kong search engine at Google.com.hk, which offers unfiltered Chinese-language search results.

Google now has a 21 percent share in China's search engine market, according to Beijing-based research firm Analysys International. This marks a significant slide from the 35 percent the search giant once had at the end of 2009. China-based rival Baidu, meanwhile, continues to dominate the market, with a 73 percent share.

In spite of the setbacks, Google held an event in Beijing that promoted products and services the company has been working on. This included a Google function that will allow users to search and view foreign web pages that have been automatically translated into the selected language.

"We hope everyone on the planet will be able to use their mother language to search for text, documents and sites that might not be in their mother language, but in the numerous languages of the world," said Lee Feng Chien, general manager for Google Taiwan.

In the past, Google has faced pressure from the Chinese government over Internet censorship, a clash which was given more detail to, according to released U.S. Department of State cables from WikiLeaks. From 2007 to 2009, China demanded the company remove a link from its self-censoring Google.cn page to Google.com, according to cables released on Saturday. Google.com was even called an illegal site by a member of China's top ruling body.

But on Tuesday, Google was called a "symbol of the Internet," said Hu Qiheng, president of the Internet Society of China, which is backed by the Chinese government. Hu also reported that China now has 440 million Internet users, 300 million of which are mobile Internet users.

"Google's charm comes from how it doesn't stop innovating," she said.

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Michael Kan

IDG News Service
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