Executive vice-president of the Go Daddy group, Christine Jones, said China’s new censorship requirements prompted the company to withdraw.
“This was a decision we made in our own right, based on our experience of having to contact Chinese nationals, collect their personal information and grudgingly return it back to Chinese officials," she said. “We just made a decision that we didn't want to act as an agent of the Chinese government.”
"We were immediately concerned of course about the motives behind the increased level of registration verification required by CNNIC [the China Internet Network Information Centre]," she explained.
She was referring to the fact that Chinese authorities require companies to supply data on users and the services they request. Under the new rules, which are retroactive, the authorities are asking for colour photographs and business IDs along with the names and addresses of Chinese nationals who are registering websites.
“It didn't make sense to us that the identification procedures that had been sufficient and in place since 2005 were apparently no longer sufficient from China's standpoint,” Jones said. “No convincing rationale for the increase in documentation was ever provided to us.”
“Our experience has been that China is focused on using the internet to monitor and control the legitimate activities of its citizens, rather than penalising those who commit internet-related crimes,” Jones said.
Chinese bloggers and online activists have also lashed out at the new requirements, saying they are tantamount to treating potential website owners as suspected criminals. The new rules add further limits to online freedom of expression in China, which is guaranteed by the country’s constitution and laws.
“We believe that many of the current abuses of the internet originating in China are due to a lack of enforcement against criminal activities by the Chinese government,” Christine Jones said.
For his part, Google co-founder Sergey Brin said that mainland China is increasingly reminding him of his native country, the former Soviet Union.
However, for some economists in Hong Kong and Shanghai, economic self-interest rather than outrage over human rights and Chinese censorship is behind the decision to leave the mainland.
One Shenzhen stock exchange official said, “Search engines survive on the net if they sell advertising. Domestic investors have always preferred Baidu (the main Chinese language search engine) to Google, which was losing money. That is why they left.”