Google watch - Google quits China and buys UK's Plink

While Google is watching you, we make sure we're watching Google.

Google finally went through with its threat to pull out of China, winning plaudits in the West, but criticism in Asia. Meanwhile, its privacy policy is under scrutiny (again), and it has made its first UK acquisition.

- In March Google took the huge step of closing its Chinese site. It first announced its intention to review its China policy in January, and after months of speculation opted for a compromise - it shut down google.cn and redirected traffic to google.com.hk, the company's Hong Kong site, which is not bound by the same censorship rules. It's a huge decision to jeopardise its presence in the country with the world's largest internet user base. The decision was lauded by commentators in the West, though some analysts in China complained that it left Chinese internet users high and dry. Google still has mobile interests in China; how these will fare remains to be seen. One thing is for sure, though - don't expect Microsoft to be following suit any time soon.

- Google's stance toward privacy is coming under heightened scrutiny. Data watchdogs from the UK and nine other countries criticised Google's disregard for privacy in its Buzz social network and Street View and called on the company to incorporate a set of privacy principles in future products. The organisations collectively sent a letter to chief executive Eric Schmidt, singling out Google Buzz. 'In essence, you took Gmail, a private web-based email service, and converted it into a social network without adequately informing users about how this would work or providing sufficient information to permit informed consent decisions,' they wrote.

- Google also surprised many by making its first UK acquisition, paying an undisclosed sum for visual search start-up Plink. Plink's first product was called PlinkArt, a mobile app which scrutinises pictures of well-known paintings and artworks to identify them. At the time of the purchase, Plink claimed to have registered 50,000 users in just under four weeks. The deal is clearly designed to beef up Google's talent in the emerging visual search market. The acquisition follows comments from Google executives that the search giant is aiming to buy a minimum of one company a month.

World dominance update

Google recorded a $1.96bn (£1.3bn) profit in the first quarter of 2010, a 38 per cent increase on Q1 2009. In the UK alone, which accounts for 13 per cent of Google's business, revenues reached $842m (£544.6m), a 15 per cent increase on Q1 2009.

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