Google said it might shut down its Google.cn portal following a series of cyber attacks on its corporate infrastructure, which the company said originated from within China.
The attacks, which occurred in mid-December, targeted a number of companies across the Internet, finance, technology, media and chemical sectors and are also thought to have included G-mail accounts of a number of Chinese-based human rights activists.
Based on its investigations, which the company has made public, only two G-mail accounts were accessed, and activity was limited to basic account information (such as the date the account was created) and subject line, rather than the contents of e-mails.
Google said it has taken the unusual step of sharing information about these attacks with a broad audience not just because of the security and human rights implications, but also because the information goes to the heart of a much bigger global debate about freedom of speech.
"We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all," the company said on its official blog.
Google added: "We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China."
Antony Yiu, search director for wwwins Consulting and iProspect Hong Kong, said if Google exits China, advertisers would have a limited choice for their search campaigns.
He explained that while Google only commands a 30 percent market share compared to local search service Baidu, Google boasts quality traffic that comes mostly from first-tier cities.
Yiu said Google's audience generally has higher average incomes and education, plus more spending power.
Even if Google exits, Yiu said key advertisers would still not allocate all their search budgets solely to Baidu but would seek other Internet properties that target those highly educated with high spending power.
See also: "Social Media Grows Across China"
Marketing Magazine Asia