Reacting to news of cyber attacks targeting the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists, Google announced this week that it would cease cooperating with the Chinese government to censor results from its website, a move that is likely to lead to the search giant’s effective withdrawal from the Chinese market.

The attack, according to Google, was unsuccessful in accessing any more than minor details of the targeted webmail accounts, but the company says that it forms part of a troubling pattern of online abuses aimed at human rights campaigners.

Google says that it launched the Chinese version of its web portal in 2006 with the expectation that, even with the restrictions placed on it by the authorities, it would help provide information to China’s citizens in a manner consistent with the company’s avowed goal of creating "a more open internet."

Search engine optimization (SEO) is one of many online industries likely to be affected by the move, since it would cede total control of the Chinese search market to home-grown – and government-censored – rival Baidu, which already has a commanding market share.