SAN FRANCISCO—Google Inc. said that its Web search service in mainland China was partially blocked Wednesday, the deadline for the company to extend its Internet operating license in the country.
The company said the blockage appeared to affect only search queries generated by mainland China users of the company’s Google Suggest function, which automatically recommends search queries based on the first few letters a user types into the search box.
“It appears that search queries produced by Google Suggest are being blocked for mainland users in China. Normal searches that do not use query suggestions are unaffected,” the company said in a statement.
Google declined to speculate why only Google Suggest searches were being blocked. The blockage affected only searches conducted from within mainland China, not those from Hong Kong.
The blockage was first noted on a Google Web page, google.com/prc/report.html, which reports on the availability of the company’s services in mainland China. The page listed the Web search service as “partially blocked” as of Wednesday. Google’s Web search had previously been listed as “fully or mostly accessible.”
Other key services such as Gmail, News and Images remained “fully or mostly accessible.”
Google said Tuesday it would no longer redirect Chinese users to an unfiltered search site in Hong Kong automatically but would instead add a link on its main Chinese Web page to direct users to its Hong Kong search engine.
Google made the switch after the Chinese government objected to the automatic redirect and threatened to take away Google’s Internet operating license.
But it isn’t clear whether China’s government will find the change sufficient and extend the company’s license.
The standoff between Google and China appears to be reaching a pivotal moment three months after the company said it would reroute search traffic to Hong Kong, a move that enabled the Internet search giant to evade mainland China’s censorship laws.
The Chinese government told Google that the rerouting was “unacceptable,” according to a company blog post on Monday. Google said it was told its Internet license wouldn’t be renewed if it continued the practice.
The escalating dispute with China was sparked in January when Google complained that it had been the victim of a major cyberattack in which hackers stole some of the company’s proprietary computer code and spied on Google email accounts of Chinese human rights activists.