Google apologizes for Chinese site's gaffe
Associated Press
 Apr. 10, 2007

Joe McDonald

BEIJING - Google Inc. apologized Monday following complaints the U.S. search company's new Internet tool for inputting Chinese characters incorporated data from a Chinese rival.

The dispute highlights the intense competition in China's booming online market, where Web portals spend heavily on new search, entertainment and other features and react quickly to competitive threats.

Inputting the non-phonetic ideograms in which Chinese is written is a time-consuming chore, and a system that offers more convenience could help a site draw traffic from competitors. Google's new Pinyin Input Method Editor tool is meant to help a user input characters in Pinyin, a phonetic system for writing characters in Roman letters. It suggests possible characters after just a few letters are typed. Inc. complained Sunday that the new software appeared to copy material from Sohu's Sogou search engine. Chinese Web surfers pointed out similarities shortly after the release of the Google tool. Google said its suggestions for characters are based on data gathered by Google's Chinese-language search engine about the frequency of searches for certain words.

But in a statement Monday, Google acknowledged that Web surfers have pointed out some material came from "non-Google data sources." It gave no indication what Google did, how much was from other sources or how it was included in the new tool.

"We are willing to face up to our mistake and offer an apology to users and to the Sohu company," Google said.

China has the second-largest population of Internet users, with 137 million people online and is on track to surpass the United States as the largest population in two years.

Google and other foreign Internet outfits are struggling to adapt to a Chinese market where communist leaders try to control what the public sees and limit foreign ownership of Web companies. The Chinese writing system adds a layer of complexity for foreign competitors trying to tailor their systems for Chinese users.

Google is China's No. 2 search engine, with a market share of 22 percent, while industry leader Inc. has 55 percent, according to Shanghai research firm iResearch Inc. Yahoo Inc.'s China portal is third with 7.2 percent and Sogou No. 4 with 6.5 percent.

Google launched a China-based service,, after seeing its market share erode as government filters slowed access for Chinese users to its U.S. service. Human rights activists have criticized the Chinese version, which excludes search results on human rights, the Dalai Lama and other topics banned by the communist government.