- Associated Press - Monday, September 20, 2010

BEIJING (AP) - Google is hiring dozens of marketing and technical employees in China to defend a shrinking market share against local rivals after closing its Chinese search engine six months ago this Wednesday in a dispute over censorship.

Mainland users usually can reach Google’s Chinese-language site in Hong Kong, a Chinese territory with no Internet filtering. That has helped Google retain its rank as China’s second-most-popular search engine but Hong Kong access is occasionally blocked and some users have defected to local alternatives, mostly to market leader Baidu.com.

Google Inc. has kept a research and development center and advertising sales offices in China and is promoting its Android operating system for mobile phones. It launched what it says is a “large-scale recruiting campaign” for at least 40 posts this summer, from national marketing manager to software designer.

“Our engineering teams in Beijing and Shanghai continue to focus on bringing a steady stream of innovation to our services in China,” the company said in a written response to questions.

The hiring has stirred local fans’ hopes the China search engine might reopen, though Google has given no indication of that. None of its job advertisements mentions a connection to the China site, Google.cn.

“The signal that Google are on a hiring spree might suggest they are getting a little movement in talks with the government,” said Edward Yu, president of Analysys International, a Beijing research firm.

Google did not immediately respond to questions about its contacts with the government and whether it hoped to reopen the Chinese search engine.

Google’s January announcement that it no longer wanted to cooperate with Chinese censorship and might leave prompted an outcry by local users. The government, startled and embarrassed by Google’s public defiance, didn’t budge and the China search engine closed March 22. Communist leaders promote Web use for education and business but block material deemed subversive or obscene. Google objected to being required to exclude search results for banned sites.

China is the world’s most populous Internet market, with more than 420 million people online, but Google has said little about its plans for this country, leaving local users and industry analysts guessing.

“I think Google will come back to China,” said Qiao Fan, a 27-year-old freelance website designer. He set up the fan site http://www.gogogoogle.com to promote Google to Chinese users.

“Some Google products you just can’t find on other services,” Qiao said, citing the company’s e-mail and friend-finding features.

Qiao draws hope from the fact that Google put in the effort to renew its license to operate Google.cn in July. That site includes a button users can click to reach the Hong Kong site and links to Google services not covered by censorship.

“I think because of that, they are making preparations to come back,” Qiao said.

Revenues are flowing in from Chinese advertisers that want to reach customers abroad through the company’s U.S. site or mainland users of the Hong Kong site.

Google received 24.2 percent of China’s search engine revenues in the second quarter of the year, though that was down from the previous quarter’s 30.9 percent, according to Analysys International. Nearly all that lost business went to Baidu, which raised its market share from 64.2 percent to 70 percent.

Story Continues →