Google's Chinese-language operations have been fraught with controversy and clashes with the authorities since almost the beginning. Licensing issues, blocks and censorship, and copyright infringements have placed an almost constant strain on the search engine's relationship with Beijing and threatened to tarnish its reputation in the international Web community. Launching its mainland site Google.cn in January 2006, the firm acknowledged it had 'clearly compromise[d]' its mission when it 'agreed to remove certain sensitive information from our search results'. Google had already come under fire in 2005 over the Chinese-language version of its main site as its news service automatically filtered out stories from blocked sources. The decision to extend censorship throughout its search engine led to derision from rights groups around the world, and claims the firm had sold out on its central philosophy - 'Don't be evil'. But Google insisted the alternative was worse - 'failing to offer' its search engine 'to a fifth of the world's population'. In a message posted on the same blog on which yesterday's announcement was released, Andrew McLaughlin, then the company's senior policy counsel, said mainland surfers were finding Google's main search page was 'down around 10 per cent of the time', its news service was 'never available' and it image search was 'accessible only half the time'. 'We aren't happy about what we had to do this week, and we hope that over time everyone in the world will come to enjoy full access to information. But how is that full access most likely to be achieved?' McLaughlin wrote. 'Our launch of Google.cn, though filtered, is a necessary first step toward achieving a productive presence in a rapidly changing country that will be one of the world's most important and dynamic for decades to come.' The move did not automatically get the site onto mainland authorities' good side, though: it took until July the next year before the company gained an official licence to operate on the mainland. Until then, Google's Chinese employees were reported to be working under constant fear of being closed down at a moment's notice. The road has been far from smooth since then, but tensions have been growing over the past year, as mainland authorities significantly ramped up their crusade to purge undesirable content from the internet. Although the campaign is officially aimed at pornography and other obscene or illegal content, in a year of contentious anniversaries, censors have also set their sights on dissidents' blogs and sources of politically sensitive information. Apparently part of that crackdown, Youtube.com, a Google subsidiary, has been blocked from mainland servers since March - leaving the market wide open for its Chinese clone, Youku.com. In June, central government officials twice accused Google of helping to spread obscene material on the internet. In the days leading up to the public rebukes, Google's search engine, its Gmail e-mail service and other related websites had suffered outages on mainland servers for hours at a time. In September, Google China was thrown into disarray when its long-standing president, Lee Kai-fu, resigned to set up his own company. The following month, Google found itself the target of online vilification from mainland internet users after the All China Writers' Association launched a US court case over copyright infringement. Google recently apologised for scanning over 18,000 Chinese-language works for its online library but this week broke off negotiations with the union. But the world's biggest search engine is not the only global cyber-giant to feel the heat for pandering to mainland censors. In 2005, Yahoo! found itself in hot water when the news emerged it had given mainland authorities details of reporter Shi Tao's private e-mails - which subsequently led to him being sentenced to 10 years in prison. Yahoo! said at the time it had been legally obligated to provide the information, but eventually issued an apology in 2007. The row raged into the next year as several rights organisations, including Reporters Without Borders, alleged the company had provided authorities with personal details and e-mails from as many as 81 dissidents, dating back as far as 2003. Last month, computer giant Apple came under fire for preventing mainland customers from downloading two applications linked to two high-profile exiles - Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and Uygur activist Rebiya Kadeer.