It’s no secret that Google LLC Chief Executive Sundar Pichai has been angling to get the company back into China, and now those efforts may extend to its cloud services.
According to anonymous sources cited in a report Friday afternoon by Bloomberg, the company is in talks with internet giant Tencent Holdings Ltd., cloud and server firm Inspur Group and other Chinese companies to offer Google cloud services in the mainland.
The talks reportedly started early this year, with potential partners narrowed to three Chinese companies in late March, according to one source.
The move is sure to be controversial, all the more so since Google left China eight years ago at least partly because it couldn’t abide the censorship of its search results by the Chinese government.
The reported cloud talks come on the heels just two days ago of a report by The Intercept that the company is creating a potential censorship-compliant search service for China. That report was leaked because some employees were angry that Google might agree to censorship of results. Another report from The Information said Google is also developing a compliant Chinese news aggregation app.
It’s not yet clear whether any of these plans, including a cloud offering, will actually come to pass. With trade tensions high between the U.S. and China thanks to President Trump’s recent imposition of tariffs, all bets are off on many a deal between businesses in the two countries.
It’s also possible the talks are preliminary and might not result in deals. Google declined to comment on the report.
Still, Google might skirt some of the ethical or at least political issues with a cloud service, particularly because it reportedly would work with partners. That’s what other cloud providers such as Amazon Web Services Inc. are required to do, and there’s no reason to think Google would be an exception. As Bloomberg noted, China requires data to be stored in the country.
AWS’ experience provides some clues to challenges that Google Cloud might face. Amazon partner Beijing Sinnet Technology Co., for instance, reportedly emailed Amazon’s Chinese customers in 2017 asking them to remove virtual private networks and other tools that can be used to circumvent the country’s heavily policed internet. At the time, Beijing Sinnet said it was responding to a request from China’s public security and industry and information technology ministries to enforce the rules.
Bowing to Chinese law back in November, Amazon.com Inc. sold some physical infrastructure for its cloud computing operation in China to Beijing Sinnet under a law the country passed earlier in 2017. That allowed AWS to keep providing cloud services to hundreds or thousands of Chinese companies.
Still, the reality is that China’s public cloud market remains dominated by local players such as Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.’s cloud computing arm Alibaba Cloud, Baidu Inc. and Tencent.
Google has been making other moves in China as well, building a cloud data center region in Hong Kong this year and opening an artificial intelligence research center in Beijing in January. It made the announcement of its Google AI China Center, its first such center in Asia, at its Google Developer Days event in Shanghai in December.
The company also has been trying to push use of its TensorFlow AI tools in China, following earlier moves to ease back into China on a number of fronts, including making its Translate app available there in March. Moreover, in early December, according to Reuters, Pichai (pictured) appeared at a conference run by the Cyberspace Administration of China, the country’s top internet regulator, to talk about the potential of AI. And earlier last year, Google’s AlphaGo AI famously beat No. 1 Go player Ke Jie at the Future of Go Summit in Wuzhen, China.
Photo: Maurizio Pesce/Flickr
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