Internet search giant Google Inc's recently-launched platform on the Chinese mainland Google.cn has reportedly been operating without a valid licence for its Chinese-language service since January 25 this year.
The major search engine is using the same Internet content provider (ICP) licence as Ganji.com, a Chinese information website set up on March 21 last year in Beijing, the Beijing News daily reported yesterday.
Technically speaking, the newspaper said, Google is breaching Chinese Government Internet rules, as overseas companies are not allowed to operate without an ICP licence in providing local services.
The newspaper noted that in order to set up a platform on the Chinese mainland, overseas investors usually become minority shareholders in joint ventures with local Internet firms, or sign bilateral deals so that the foreign investor can transfer technical support to a Chinese client, instead of operating independently.
China's Internet industrial and technical regulator, the Ministry of Information Industry, was investigating the matter, the Beijing News said.
Illegal operation could lead to "rectification, fines, closure," or even "criminal" charges, the newspaper said. "Relevant government agencies are looking into the issue, while Google Inc is also doing some public relations and mediating work with the government," it said.
Reuters yesterday quoted China Business Times as saying that "under China's Internet policy framework, Google.cn is clearly unlawful."
However, the company's licensing was "totally within the legal framework," and the newspaper report is "groundless," Reuters quoted a Google spokeswoman as saying.
A previous statement from Google China noted that Google.cn is "temporarily" using the same ICP licence with Ganji.com, which was set up by Yang Haoyong who once studied in the United States, according to the Beijing News.
It is not the first time that foreign Internet companies have used the ICP licences of local firms, the Beijing News quoted Google China as saying.
"For example, Yahoo is using the same ICP licence as 3721.com and Amazon is sharing their ICP licence with joyo.com," the newspaper said.
An official from the Ministry of Information Industry said that the Google case cannot be compared, as "3721.com is an asset that Yahoo has bought, and yoyo.com is an asset which Amazon.com have purchased, while Ganji.com is not a subsidiary of Google," the Beijing News said.
The newspaper yesterday quoted an insider as saying that "in order to take a foothold on the Chinese mainland, the most urgent task for Google China is to invest."
"The full assets of Ganji.com could be sold to Google, which would let the website directly use its own ICP licence," the insider said.
But a spokesman from Google China said yesterday that he did not know anything about such arrangements, nor would he like to comment on the issue.
Source: China Daily