Posted by: Brad | June 26, 2008

Google’s Appeasement of China is Smart, not Evil

One major part of having a freer world is having freedom of speech and free access to it. Sadly, that isn’t coming any time soon, but we’re still facing enormous decisions in progressing in the fight against censorship. One of those decisions was made in colossal proportions by everybody’s familiar friend, Google. (China is one fifth of the world, which makes this a pretty big issue.) Knowing Google’s exemplified values and mission aligned with furthering human rights, it appears confusing or downright selfish of Google to stay in China’s market by self-censoring. In fact, Google’s motto from the very beginning was “Don’t be evil”. Contradiction, wouldn’t you think?

Despite appearances, this is not an uncontemplated act. In fact, it is the smart choice to appease China’s request for censorship. Let’s be blunt. If Google partially self-censors, China will have much freer access compared to if the “People’s Republic” there does the censoring for them. And allowing Google in China without censorship is out of the question, knowing China. So if you think we’re doing the world any good by not giving China a censored version, you’re wrong.

Google gives us some insight into the company’s logic:

We ultimately reached our decision by asking ourselves which course would most effectively further Google’s mission to organize the world’s information and make it universally useful and accessible. Or, put simply: how can we provide the greatest access to information to the greatest number of people?

……

Filtering our search results clearly compromises our mission. … By launching Google.cn and making a major ongoing investment in people and infrastructure within China, we intend to change that.

……

Our continued engagement with China is the best (perhaps only) way for Google to help bring the tremendous benefits of universal information access to all our users there.

We’re in this for the long haul. In the years to come, we’ll be making significant and growing investments in China. 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. To some people, a hard compromise may not feel as satisfying as a withdrawal on principle, but we believe it’s the best way to work toward the results we all desire.

Not too shabby, huh? And to be honest, it’s a bit ambiguous, perhaps even untruthful, to say that Google is filtering its content. The unfiltered Chinese-language version of Google still exists, and is open to China if they are willing, but Google made the .cn version to supplement that for the benefit of users. Furthermore, whenever something is censored, the users in China are told that information was taken out by their government. And finally, proving that Google really does care, Google will not host anything with private information on Chinese users (like Gmail or Blogger) because it would pose huge dangers to dissenters there. Beyond this, Google is looking for more steps towards bettering the world, like the internet industry’s support and involvement of the United States government.

(Google has their own testimony on the issue, of which I am in effect summarizing.)

Google has the right idea, and is making the best decision in regard to China’s current state. If Google keeps this up, it will have a great impact on the entire world.

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Responses

  1. I think the clinching point was that part-censorship by Google would restrict information availability only slightly, whereas censorship by the Chinese Government would restrict information availability to a large extent. So Google decided this was the best way to make as much information available to as many people as possible.


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