Google Inc said it may pull out of China because it is no longer willing to accept censorship of search results and after hackers coordinated a sophisticated attack on email accounts of human rights activists using its Gmail service.

Google's surprise announcement on Tuesday came shortly after an adviser to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she will announce a technology policy next week to help citizens in other countries to gain access to an uncensored Internet. More than 20 other companies were also attacked by the China-based hackers, Google said. Google said the hackers had tried to access the Gmail email accounts of Chinese human rights activists but only managed to access two unidentified accounts, and then only headlines and other data such as when the account was created. It did not say what information the hackers tried to access from the other corporations, nor which they were. Google said it was now notifying the other affected corporations, adding that it was working with the U.S. authorities. “These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered — combined with attempts over the past year to limit free speech on the Web — have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China,” Google said in a statement.

Google maintains a Chinese language website,, which the company says complies with local laws. The company's flagship, English-language site does not adhere to China's rules. “We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on, 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, and potentially our offices in China.” Human rights has been a frequent source of tension between the United States and China, which is the largest holder of U.S. Treasuries, with total holdings of $798.9 billion. Last week Clinton dined with tech heavyweights such as Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, Microsoft Corp research chief Craig Mundie, and Cisco Systems Inc Executive Vice President Sue Bostrom. It was not clear if that meeting was related to Google's revelation. Microsoft had no immediate comment.

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