Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Baidu, Microsoft Deal Could Significantly Impact Google in China

There is recent news that Baidu and Bing have made a deal that could have a lot of ramifications for Internet search services in China.  Bloomberg reports:
"The agreement will let Baidu users see English search results generated by the U.S. company’s Bing technology to users in China, Viola Wang, a spokeswoman at Microsoft’s MSN venture in China, said by phone today. A service jointly offered by the companies will start this year, Baidu said in an e-mailed statement today."
This could be especially bad news for Google Search in China for two reasons in particular.

1.  Now there is competition for Google Search in its perceived strength from a Chinese company

As I point out here in a post about a Chinese person's thoughts about Google's challenges in China, it is not uncommon for some in China to use both Baidu and Google.  One common reason for this behavior is the perception that Baidu is better for seeking material that's in Chinese and Google is better for seeking material that's in English or outside of China.

However, if Baidu is able to provide (and market) a significantly improved service for non-Chinese searches, people who use Baidu for Chinese searches may be less likely to also use Google Search.  Even if Google Search is perceived as better than what Baidu can offer with Bing, the difference may no longer be great enough to motivate people to switch between search services depending on their needs.

2.  Increased likelihood of Google Search being fully blocked in China

Google Search currently redirects searches in China to its servers in Hong Kong so that it does not have to self-censor (as it used to before the service was redirected) per the rules of the Chinese government for China-based search services.  In short, the Chinese government now censors the service itself by blocking "bad" search terms and pages with "bad" links without entirely blocking Google Search.  Google Search may have avoided YouTube's fate of being entirely blocked at least in part because the Chinese government may recognize that a significant number of people in China, both in the business and academic worlds, have a critical need for what Google Search can offer.  Like the case I made here with Google Maps, no Chinese company's service can take its place.

However, now the Chinese government may believe that Baidu, through its partnership with Bing, will be able to meet China's non-local search needs.  While some in China would likely complain if Google Search were to be entirely blocked, the Chinese government may simply tell them that Baidu is able to meet their needs and that Google Search will be welcomed back if it agrees to self-censor as the Chinese government wants.

Not only would fully blocking Google Search mean that China's Great Firewall need not worry about selectively blocking Google Search (presumably more complex to carry out than a complete block) but it would likely cause increased online traffic (business) to be directed towards Baidu, a Chinese company.  These are both things the Chinese government likely wants.

As I mentioned here earlier, I think it can be for the net good for the Chinese people to be better connected to the outside world, even when sacrifices for censorship need to be made.  From that perspective, I think the news about the deal between Microsoft and Baidu is positive.  People in China will be more exposed to world-class options for finding and discovering material outside of China.  However, if it comes at the cost of Google Search not being available in China, then I'm not sure the Chinese people will have made any significant gains in that respect.

We'll just have to see what happens.

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