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Google Now Says Search Outage Due To Censorship

Google now says the temporary outage that affected its Hong Kong-based search site Tuesday was due to Chinese government censorship, after initially attributing it to an internal error.

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The outage affected users in China who attempted to visit Google.com.hk as well as Google.com. Google initially attributed the outage to its usage of the search parameter "gs_rfai," the "rfa" portion of which is linked to Radio Free Asia, which has long been inaccessible in China.

Later, Google said that because the "rfa" parameter was added a week ago, the blockage of search results must have been the result of the so-called "Great Firewall Of China."

Google also noted that before it made any modification to its services, search queries through Google.hk returned to normal within a few hours.

"We corrected the time period in which we started adding the 'gs_rfai' string to our global search parameters, the knowledge of which signaled that the addition was not responsible for the blocking we were seeing," a Google spokesperson said Wednesday in an e-mail.

The glitch comes a week after Google revealed its intention to re-route users of its Chinese site to its Google.com.hk site.

Google's relationship with China, especially in recent weeks, has been shaky. The search and advertising giant had been censoring its search results on its Google.cn site in compliance with Chinese government regulations, and its decision last week to shut Google.cn and divert traffic through its uncensored Hong Kong site angered Chinese authorities.

On Wednesday, a spokesperson for China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology told The Wall Street Journal he was unaware of any disruption on Google's end.

Industry analysts believe Beijing would think twice before completely blocking Google from the country for fear of disturbing businesses' access to information, both locally and globally.

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