A stream of stories out of China the last few days.
First, Google announced not unexpectedly that it was going to postpone the release this week of two mobile phones in China that were going to use Google's Android software, reports the New York Times. No indication of when - if ever - Google would release the phones.
Second, China Mobile announced that text messages would automatically be scanned for "key words" provided by the police. The news was reported first by the China Daily which was then reported on by the New York Times.
Messages that are deemed to be "unhealthy" (i.e., they violate some undisclosed criteria established by the central government) they will be turned over to the police who can then order China Mobile to suspend the texting function from the phone.
The China Daily also reported today that SMS was returning to the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region of China six months after the ethnic clashes last July. Texting will be allowed within the region, but not overseas, and residents are restricted to 20 messages a day.
Third, an American computer security researcher at SecureWorks named Joe Stewart claims that he has found evidence that the hacking of Google and other companies was of Chinese origins. He bases his claims by determining that "the main program used in the attack contained a module based on an unusual algorithm from a Chinese technical paper that has been published exclusively on Chinese-language Web sites," reports the New York Times.
Reuters and others then reported earlier this week that Google was trying to determine whether a Google insider helped the hacking attack along. If true, this could increase tensions more than a bit.
Different news reports also say that Google is exploring options for staying in China, but given the Chinese government's stand on censorship, this would seem to be difficult.
Other companies that were hacked along with Google for the most part kept their mouths shut, and did little in the way of publicly supporting Google. Yahoo did, however, and its Chinese partner the Alibaba Group immediately called Yahoo's stance "reckless."
I guess those US-based companies that did not support Google don't believe in Ben Franklin's warning, "We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately."
Stay tuned: this story is going to be around awhile.
Two quick additions to the post.
First, IEEE Associate Editor Joshua Romero pointed me to an interesting post by David McCandless who visualizes information, ideas, stories and data. You can see it both here and an updated version here at the London Guardian. You may want to peruse his blog as well - it is pretty interesting.
Also, there was a story in today's Wall Street Journal indicating that China was trying to frame the dispute with Google as being a technical one, not a political one. However, another story in today's Financial Times of London indicated that this stance might have changed overnight. This story says that Chinese media are calling Google's threat to leave a conspiracy by the White House.
Confusing signals to say the least, and maybe an indication of some political indecision in the Chinese government on what to do next.
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.