WASHINGTON–Just two days after Google made good on its promise to stop censoring search results in China, Go Daddy, the world’s leading domain name registrar, has followed suit, pledging on Wednesday to stop issuing new .cn Internet addresses.
“We have decided to discontinue offering .cn domain names at this time,” Go Daddy General Counsel Christine Jones told members of the Legislative Executive Commission on China, a panel that includes members of both the House and Senate.
Jones and Alan Davidson, Google’s U.S. director of public policy, told the lawmakers that cyber attacks emanating from China have spiked in the past year, and both companies have concluded that Chinese Internet regulations have created a hostile business environment within the country.
Jones said that Go Daddy was hit with a variant of the attacks in December that Google described the following month when it pledged to stop censoring search results in China and threatened to close its operations in the country.
Instead, Google opted to redirect traffic to its Chinese search engine to Google.com.hk, its Hong Kong site, which is free from the filtering requirements on the mainland.
The Chinese government has condemned Google’s move, and Davidson today said that the company has already encountered instances of China blocking objectionable content on Google.com.hk.
“We have already seen intermittent censorship of certain search queries,” he told the panel.
In Go Daddy’s case, the company observed cyber attacks targeting sites that it hosts containing sensitive political or religious content Chinese authorities try to screen out. While those attacks have been intensifying, Jones said that the impetus for Go Daddy deciding to suspend the issuance of new .cn domains was increasing pressure from Chinese authorities to disclose detailed information about the registrants, including color photos and signed paper statements.
Not long afterward, Chinese authorities came to Go Daddy and demanded that the company collect and submit the same level of personal information about its existing registrants, some of whom run sites that Go Daddy has hosted in China for six years.
“With all due respect to Google it really didn’t have anything to do with them,” Jones said of the decision to close .cn registrations. “We just made a decision that we didn’t want to act as an agent of the Chinese government.”
She also noted that Go Daddy’s Chinese site would occasionally be taken offline, and that the outages had been increasing in recent months. She said that Go Daddy would continue hosting the sites of its existing .cn customers, and that if China rescinded the data-collection requirement, the company would happily “flip the switch” and resume issuing new domains in that country.
But she and Davidson both told the panel that the often arbitrary and shifting nature of Chinese regulations makes it difficult to operate in the country with any sense of continuity.
“We wish there was a rulebook…we just from time to time get a directive,” Jones said. “When our Web site gets shut down in China, we never find out why. They just won’t answer the questions.”
“It’s not like getting a court order from a U.S. judge,” Davidson added, though he declined to share with the lawmakers the details of Google’s discussions with the Chinese government.
The committee invited a representative from the Chinese embassy to testify at today’s hearing. The embassy declined, but submitted a statement reiterating many of the comments that have turned up in state media outlets defending China’s right to regulate the Internet according to its own laws, and condemning Google for politicizing what it described as a commercial dispute.
The lawmakers had high praise for Google and Go Daddy, and urged other members of the business community to take a tougher stance on Internet censorship and human rights.
Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) renewed calls for Congress to move on the Online Global Freedom Act, a legislative proposal that saw first light in 2006 and would require, among other things, technology companies to make public the censorship requests they receive from foreign governments. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) appealed for similar legislationat a hearing last month, before Google had announced its plans to redirect traffic to Hong Kong.
Davidson today called on Congress and other federal authorities to take action on the issue, and said he hoped other companies would adopt a similar stance against repressive filtering policies.
“Internet censorship is a global threat to human rights and economic activity,” Davidson said. “We believe Internet freedom should become a major plank of our foreign policy.”