Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Google Versus China

Let me be absolutely clear that I don't really trust Google. I have huge admiration for their technology, their vision  and their foresight. I also accept that the famous "Do No Evil" motto is a genuine aspiration and not just a barefaced lie.  However Google is an extremely wealthy extremely powerful organisation who have a virtual strangle hold over one of the worlds most important resources. History has shown again and again that when you mix large amounts of power with large amounts of wealth and throw in a healty dollop of human nature principles eventually go out the window.

Given that position I have to admit astonishment at Google's recent announcement of a change in their approach to China. They are no longer going to comply with Chinese Government request's to censor search results for the Chinese market. Allowing for the language of diplomacy this seems to me to be a declaration of war between a multinational corporation and a global superpower.

Can a mere company hope to win such a war? Surely not  - if the company flaunts the law of the land then the Chinese government can shut down their local operations and even arrest any local employees. Google would be forced to pull out of China completely and the Chinese could contine business as usual behind their great firewall. There are other search engines after all, probably even a few home grown ones.  

Is this really a decision being made on principle? Is there a political motivation behind it? Was there any US government involvement in the decision? Are there any economic reasons why Google would consider this move? Is there any possibility that a move like this could start a ripple of awareness among the population of the worlds largest nation who live behind the great firewall of China?  I don't know the answer to any of these questions but I do think it will be very interesting to watch how this unfolds. 
Discalimer: I recognise the irony of the fact that I am writing this article on a blogging service owned and provided to me for free by Google.  


Stabs said...

I suspect a murkiness behind the surface posturing.

I think that a struggle for control of the internet has been inevitable for some time.

It's a freely accessible resource, by anyone anywhere with a tradition of American rules. That can't last.

mbp said...

Its funny how everybody pays lip service to the notion that "information is the most valuable resource" but nobody has really put it to the test. We have come to assume that the information we need will always be available when and where we want it for free just like there air we breathe. This particular tiff might just begin to give us a glimpse of what could happen when those who really control out supply of information flex their muscles.

Thallian said...

It could be a sincere move. I'm not saying it is, but it could be. Then again it could be that the government is behind it. But usually google fights against government interference rather visibly, they have in recent past litigated to keep control of their databases private for example.

Anonymous said...

Governments do tend toward doing their intended job - that of making the workforce more productive - and to that end governments tend to make our lives better.

The melamine scandal demonstrated that honesty and openness works well for China.

Google may just feel they can break China's fear of rioting. Rioting that the Chinese Communist Party rightfully fears would come from incitement to overthrow their political system. Which, if it successfully cures the leaders and doesn't actually cause said rioting, would, I suspect, lead to yet another world beating record of modernisation by China.


mbp said...

Hi Solbright. Does Google really have that much power? I ask because I really don't know but my first impression is surely not. There are other search engines right? (Isn't Baidu controlled by the Chinese Government already?) Why would they not just wave bye bye and good riddance to Google and dress it up as a patriotic move against foreign influences?

Anonymous said...

In terms of actions, Google has no more power than already exercised. Google are, in effect, calling a bluff. What I was mostly saying was that Google may be counting on China having matured enough to stand up and display it's warts alongside it's muscles.

Will China now kick Google out? If yes, then it appears Google will lose a very large market and nothing else will change.

That's a strong willed action for any company to take! Mandated or not. So, yeah, you are right to question Google's motives. One presumes Google has a plan either way. It's not like they've not pondered the censorship issue before.