Saturday, February 18, 2006
SWINGIN' IT BOTH WAYS
By sheer accident (typing Google's blog into my browser bar rather than Google), I just came across Google's self-justification for submitting to censorship in order to do business in China. Makes for an interesting series of arguments -- circumlocutions? -- in favour of compromising so-called core principles in favour so-called long-term benefits that would serve those so-called core principles supposedly better, and of course bring in lotsa moolah moolah moolah for Google. Better Google than someone with no so-called core principles at all. Right? Aren't we still nice guys? (Better look in the mirror to make sure...)
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I actually don't think the Chinese market is going to be revenue-positive for Google for a long time. I think people fundamentally misunderstand the economics of the situation. What's more, Google.com still exists, uncensored, accessible to Chinese users. I don't see how Google.cn changes anything.
If you read the letter by the Vice-President of Google, Google.com has become quite inaccessible to Chinese users. That's why the company was faced with the dilemma of forming Google.cn and submitting to Chinese censorship requirements.
To begin with, they are already respecting other countries' censorship requirements. The example give was France.
This just gets so much more attention because China is so important.
Money aside, (and I'm not saying that isn't a factor, the VP admits that up front), I would also have to ask myself, what was better...having no or sporatic access, OR providing a quality service AND informing consumers when results were filtered.
They made a good decision, in a bad situation. But this also allows them to monitor the situation and adapt it to something else if necessary. Some presence is better than limited, sporatic or none.
You could be right there. Whatever France's censorship requirements may have been, however, they are not as pervasive or draconian as China's. One can see how the case of France acted as the "thin edge of the wedge" for greater compromise down the road... so who knows how far Google will continue to slide down the slippery slope of compromising "core principles" now. One extenuating part of their decision, it seems, is informing consumers when results were filtered according to local censorship regulations: done explicitly, that could put implicit pressure on Governments to loosen up. The decision however not to provide e-mail service (not to mention blogging tools) seems to me a deft sidestepping of a moral issue: in the Shi Tao case, Yahoo got into a messy situation because it actively cooperated with authorities in revealing client information that should have remained confidential. (If you're not aware of the case or need to refresh your memory, you can read about that here: http://briancampbell.blogspot.com
Google clearly doesn't want to bend to such pressures. They want business to go smoothly, no matter what. This does not bode well for them down the road...if the Chinese gov. pressures them NOT to clearly disclose that information is being filtered, they could give in on that too. Hence, they may seem like nice guys, but as I say they'll have to look at themselves in the mirror to make sure... in the meantime, I won't any visits from China anytime soon.
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