Chinese Gmail users – and Gmail itself – appear to be facing a sort of threat from the Chinese government once again. Google’s gone on the record stating that fresh connection and usability problems have cropped up in the past month or so, and that Chinese authorities are the cause.
A Google spokesman didn’t equivocate when giving a comment to the Guardian. He stated, “Relating to Google there is no issue on our side. We have checked extensively. This is a government blockage carefully designed to look like the problem is with Gmail.”
Google and the Chinese government have of course clashed many times before. Google blamed Chinese authorities for a cyber attack that resulted in the theft of intellectual property, and the two sides have gone back and forth over censored search results, too.
Still, things had quieted down in recent months (a Google exec even called China “the heart of the future of the Internet” in December), making this new development something of a surprise.
The most obvious basis for Chinese authorities’ aggression is the unrest in the Middle East. The Chinese government was likely trying to stifle dissent at home without attracting international attention. And it probably didn’t mind if it hurt Gmail’s market share and Google’s reputation in the process.
This could get interesting now that Google’s rejected the option of keeping quiet. Then another thing to watch is how Larry Page handles the situation as CEO, since Eric Schmidt is set to step aside in two weeks’ time.