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In an effort to reassure business users of Google Apps in mainland China who may be worried about continuity of service following Google's decision stop serving censored search results from its Chinese search engine, Google is offering advice about how to improve access to Google's Web apps.
The company said in a blog post that it hopes the Chinese government will respect its decision, even as it acknowledged that Chinese authorities could block its services at any time.
Although the servers for Google Apps, and now Google Search, reside outside of China, data for those services still needs to pass through the so-called Great Firewall of China to reach Google's users in the country.
Google on Monday launched a service availability dashboard for mainland China to provide up-to-the-minute feedback about local service problems, a phenomenon that isn't new. The dashboard shows that for the past three days, Google Docs and Google Groups, both part of the Google Apps suite, have been partially blocked. Another Google Apps service, Google Sites, has been blocked completely.
Acknowledging that its users in China may face service issues, Google suggests several technical countermeasures for more reliable, safer access.
"[I]t is important to know that there are several networking configurations and associated technologies available to help ensure ongoing access to your critical business services such as Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Docs," the company said. "These network configurations, such as a Virtual Private Network (VPN) connection, secure shell (SSH) tunneling, or using a proxy server, are already in place by many businesses with worldwide operations who serve their users from various locations. Companies should consult their own technical, legal and policy personnel to find a solution that works best for them."
This last sentence should be heeded: Trying to bypass censorship in China may present legal problems.
Google did not immediately respond to a request to clarify the number of Google Apps business users in China.
On Tuesday, authorities in China lashed out at Google, calling its decision to stop censoring Google.cn and to redirect queries to its servers in Hong Kong "wrong."