Alibaba Group, the owner of Yahoo China, rejected as “reckless” a Yahoo statement supporting Google’s stance in the country, after Google said it was hit by cyberattacks from China and may cease business there.
Yahoo, which holds a large stake in Alibaba, gave the Chinese company control of Yahoo China as part of a deal in 2005.
“Alibaba Group has communicated to Yahoo! that Yahoo’s statement that it is ‘aligned’ with the position Google took last week was reckless given the lack of facts in evidence,” an Alibaba spokesman said in an e-mailed statement. “Alibaba doesn’t share this view.”
Google disclosed this week that it had been hit by a cyberattack in December aimed largely at accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. The U.S. company said it would stop censoring its Chinese search engine and that the move may force it to end all operations in the country.
Yahoo said it was aligned with Google that such attacks were “deeply disturbing” and called for opposition to violations of user privacy.
Alibaba’s statement puts it further at odds with Yahoo following an erosion in ties between the companies since Carol Bartz took over as Yahoo’s CEO.
It also comes as some observers wonder if other Internet companies will follow Google’s lead in opposing Chinese censorship. The Alibaba statement did not directly address censorship, but both Yahoo China and Microsoft’s Bing filter certain search results for users in the country.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer this week said the company has no plans to follow Google in pulling out of China.
Yahoo reportedly was also a victim of cyberattacks like those aimed at Google. Google said at least 20 other large companies were hit by the attacks.
In addition to Yahoo China, which is also called China Yahoo, Alibaba operates e-commerce Web sites including the business-to-business platform Alibaba.com.
In other developments related to this controversy, the U.S. will lodge a formal protest with China over the nation’s alleged involvement in cyberattacks against Google.
The U.S. Department of State will issue an official demarche in Beijing early this week expressing U.S. concerns over the attacks and demanding an explanation, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley was quoted as saying in a Reuters report.
The formal U.S. protest follows a meeting between David Shear, the deputy assistant secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific and the Chinese Embassy’s deputy chief of mission in Washington.
In a press briefing last week, Crowley did not disclose details of the meeting or where it was held other than to say that it wasn’t held at the Chinese embassy or the State Department offices.
“It is a serious issue,” Crowley said. “The incident raises questions about both Internet freedom and the security of the Internet in China. And we’ve asked them for an explanation,” he said.
According to Crowley, Google informed the State Department of its concerns and of the attacks against it before going public with the news earlier this week. Similar concerns have been raised in the past on numerous occasions, he said.
“I would put this particular situation in the context of similar discussions and similar questions that have been raised as China has evolved and as its economy and its economic impact has grown,” he said. “We have had discussions with China going back for some time over questions of network security, questions of Internet freedom,” and these are questions the state department will continue to ask, he said.
While the decision to file a formal protest marks an escalation of sorts on the U.S. government’s part it is unlikely to make much of a difference in the short term at least.
Many security analysts say these kinds of cyber attacks are unlikely to be deterred by policy statements or expressions of protest given the enormous economic stakes involved. At that same time they also concede there is nothing the government can do by way of launching retaliatory attacks or initiating other non-diplomatic forms of response against cyber-adversaries operating out of China.
As a result, it’s going to be left largely to the businesses targeted by such attacks to defend themselves, analysts said.
For many it will mean implementing new controls for continuously monitoring their networks and for alerting when anomalous behavior occurs.