Google Inc. denied a report Monday that its Chinese-language search engine, which has been criticized for blocking searches for politically sensitive material, is operating without a required government license.
The newspaper Beijing News reported that the ICP — or Internet content provider — license listed by Google.cn on its Web site belongs to a Chinese company, Ganji.com. It said the situation has "attracted the attention" of Chinese regulators.
"Google has a partnership with Ganji.com through which Google has the required license to operate Google.cn," said Google spokeswoman Debbie Frost in a written response to questions about the report.
A spokesman for China's Ministry of Information Industry, which regulates Internet use, said it was aware that Google.cn didn't have its own license.
The spokesman, Wang Lijian, wouldn't say whether that was permitted by Chinese rules or give any other information.
Some other foreign Internet companies, such as eBay Inc., also operate in China using the licenses of their local partners.
Google and other foreign competitors are eager to gain a share of China's fast-growing online industry, the world's second-largest after the United States, with more than 100 million people online.
Google launched Google.cn last year in an effort to increase its appeal to Chinese Web surfers. The company has a Chinese-language search site based abroad, but users complain that Chinese government filters slow access to it.
The Chinese government operates what is widely regarded as the world's most sweeping effort to monitor and limit Internet use, with all online traffic passing through state-controlled gateways and filters block access to foreign sites deemed subversive or pornographic.
Web sites in China are required to remove banned content.
Google and other U.S. Internet companies are under criticism from American lawmakers and free-speech advocates for cooperating with such controls.
Google.cn blocks searches for material on human rights, Tibet and other topics banned by the government. Yahoo Inc. has been accused of providing Chinese authorities with information that led to the jailing of two Chinese e-mail users, and Microsoft Corp. shut down the Web log of a Chinese user at the government's request. Network equipment maker Cisco Systems Inc. also has been accused of cooperating with Beijing.
At a hearing last week in Washington, Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., complained to executives of those companies that their actions were a "disgrace."
Technology companies have defended their actions in China, saying they have to obey Chinese law.