Did Google ‘abandon’ the Chinese market due to domestic requirements?

Verdict: Misleading
By Rita Cheng for Asia Fact Check Lab
Did Google ‘abandon’ the Chinese market due to domestic requirements?
Photo: RFA

A claim has been shared in Chinese-language social media posts that Google “abandoned” the Chinese market due to the domestic requirements asking foreign firms to store data in China. 

But the claim is misleading. Google had its servers in China before exiting the country in 2010. The primary reason for the American tech giant’s departure from the Chinese market was its refusal to comply with the Chinese government’s content censorship.

The claim was shared on Douyin, a Chinese version of TikTok, on March 10, by a user “Li Sanjin Alex Sees the World” with more than 3 million followers. 

Commenting on the U.S.’s latest decision to ban Tiktok, the user claimed the U.S. specifically “targeted” the Chinese app by creating a new law to push it out although it complied with all American domestic laws.

“Someone might say China [also] banned it [foreign social media platforms] anyway. Facebook, Twitter, Google, it’s all equal [banned in China]. You are dead wrong,” said the user.

“As long as they keep their data at home [in China] … you can develop in the Chinese market at will. Google, they disagreed. [to follow the domestic regulations] So they gave up the Chinese market.”

Screenshot of the account of a Douyin user “Li Sanjin Alex Sees the World.” (Duoyin)

“Li Sanjin Alex Sees the World” was among many Chinese online users who criticized the U.S.’s move to ban TikTok, while citing Google’s decision to exit China as an example to “compare” how both the American and Chinese government “treat” foreign companies differently. 

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill last Wednesday calling for the app’s Chinese developer ByteDance to divest from the company or be booted out of U.S. app stores.

The bill passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, receiving 352 votes in favor, and only 65 against.

Many House legislators have argued that the app could allow Beijing to access user data and influence Americans through the wildly popular social media platform’s addictive algorithm. The White House has backed the bill, with President Joe Biden saying he would sign it if it passes Congress.

But the claim is misleading. 

Google’s China exit

A review of archived documents reveals that before Google announced its exit from the Chinese market in 2010, its servers were located within China.

The American tech giant even had joint ventures or collaborations with various Chinese companies in different businesses. 

Google also cooperated with the Chinese government’s request for self-censorship of content. 

In fact, Google stated that due to sophisticated cyber attacks originating from China and requests from the Chinese government for censorship, the company decided to redirect its “services designed for mainland China users” to servers in Hong Kong.

China has numerous laws regarding content censorship.

The “Administrative Measures for the Security Protection of International Networking of Computer Information Networks” is one example. 

Under the measure, China’s Ministry of Public Security is responsible for protecting the connection between the computer network in China and the international Internet.

“No unit or individual shall use the international networking to endanger state security, divulge state secrets, nor shall it/he/she infringe on national, social and collective interests and the legitimate rights and interests of citizens, nor shall it/he/she engage in illegal criminal activities,” the Article 4 of the measure reads. 

AFCL has previously reported on China’s increasing control over the Internet industry. 

TikTok ban?

TikTok, a highly popular app owned by a Chinese firm, faces scrutiny due to the significant control the Chinese government has over its national companies. Critics fear that this influence might allow the Chinese government to collect personal data from American users or manipulate American politics through TikTok.

The U.S.’s latest move is aimed at the ownership structure of the app, while establishing clear legal compliance norms. 

With the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act, ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, has 180 days after the law takes effect to sell the app business and hold no more than 20% of the shares to continue operating in the U.S. market.

The new bill wouldn’t remove TikTok from people’s phones. But it would prevent Apple and Google from distributing the app from their app stores, and maintaining the app via updates, which would eventually make the app unusable. 

The bill would also ban U.S. websites from hosting TikTok.

Edited by Taejun Kang and Malcolm Foster.

Asia Fact Check Lab (AFCL) was established to counter disinformation in today’s complex media environment. We publish fact-checks, media-watches and in-depth reports that aim to sharpen and deepen our readers’ understanding of current affairs and public issues. If you like our content, you can also follow us on Facebook, Instagram and X.


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