Google apologizes for Chinese site's gaffe
Apr. 10, 2007
BEIJING - Google Inc. apologized Monday following complaints the U.S. search
company's new Internet tool for inputting Chinese characters incorporated data
from a Chinese rival.
The dispute highlights the intense competition in China's booming online market,
where Web portals spend heavily on new search, entertainment and other features
and react quickly to competitive threats.
Inputting the non-phonetic ideograms in which Chinese is written is a
time-consuming chore, and a system that offers more convenience could help a
site draw traffic from competitors. Google's new Pinyin Input Method Editor tool
is meant to help a user input characters in Pinyin, a phonetic system for
writing characters in Roman letters. It suggests possible characters after just
a few letters are typed.
Sohu.com Inc. complained Sunday that the new software appeared to copy material
from Sohu's Sogou search engine. Chinese Web surfers pointed out similarities
shortly after the release of the Google tool. Google said its suggestions for
characters are based on data gathered by Google's Chinese-language search engine
about the frequency of searches for certain words.
But in a statement Monday, Google acknowledged that Web surfers have pointed out
some material came from "non-Google data sources." It gave no indication what
Google did, how much was from other sources or how it was included in the new
"We are willing to face up to our mistake and offer an apology to users and to
the Sohu company," Google said.
China has the second-largest population of Internet users, with 137 million
people online and is on track to surpass the United States as the largest
population in two years.
Google and other foreign Internet outfits are struggling to adapt to a Chinese
market where communist leaders try to control what the public sees and limit
foreign ownership of Web companies. The Chinese writing system adds a layer of
complexity for foreign competitors trying to tailor their systems for Chinese
Google is China's No. 2 search engine, with a market share of 22 percent, while
industry leader Baidu.com Inc. has 55 percent, according to Shanghai research
firm iResearch Inc. Yahoo Inc.'s China portal is third with 7.2 percent and
Sogou No. 4 with 6.5 percent.
Google launched a China-based service, Google.cn, after seeing its market share
erode as government filters slowed access for Chinese users to its U.S. service.
Human rights activists have criticized the Chinese version, which excludes
search results on human rights, the Dalai Lama and other topics banned by the