Google has threatened to halt operations in China after identifying a "highly sophisticated and targeted attack" against its corporate infrastructure.
"These (mid-December) attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered - combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web - have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China," confirmed Google chief legal officer David Drummond.
"We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China."
According to Drummond, Chinese-based hackers targeted at least twenty other large companies from a wide range of businesses, including the Internet, finance, technology, media and chemical sectors.
"We have evidence to suggest that a primary goal of the attackers was accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists," said Drummond.
"Based on our investigation to date we believe their attack did not achieve that objective. Only two Gmail accounts appear to have been accessed, and that activity was limited to account information (such as the date the account was created) and subject line, rather than the content of emails themselves."
Drummond added that reaching the decision to review Google's business operation in China had been "incredibly hard."
"We want to make clear that this move was driven by our executives in the United States, without the knowledge or involvement of our employees in China who have worked incredibly hard to make Google.cn the success it is today."