Google Blogoscoped


Yahoo Confronted by Reporters Without Borders  (View post)

Justin Pfister [PersonRank 10]

Thursday, April 13, 2006
15 years ago5,777 views

To yahoo's defense, it takes a few minutes to setup your own private mail with your own domain. How can you blame a single company for all your pain? PGP /GPG is so important for people understand and embrace.. If everyone on Gmail/Yahoo.Mail was using PGP, the companies could no longer search your text to target you with relevant ads. They might want to offer an option to pay and use Encrypted mail.

Miguel [PersonRank 0]

15 years ago #

Are people bothered strictly by the issue of handing users' data over to Chinese (or any govt) authorities? If Yahoo had not handed over the data, would it be OK for Yahoo (or Google or any company based in a democratic country) to work in China or, say, Myanmar? [PersonRank 1]

15 years ago #

>> how on earth can any company defend their decisions
>> (as Yahoo does) by saying they were only following
>> local laws or that it’s for a greater good?

"Only following orders" is the first refuge of scoundrels, not to be outdone by the "relative evil" conceit of the greater good defense, or the moral equivalency argument.

Google, of course, is making the same arguments as Yahoo and Microsoft. Schmidt says it would be "arrogant" to dictate Chinese customs, and he justifies Google's active censorship of political thought through a banal "evil scale."


Philipp, living in Germany, I'd love to hear whether you think Google's third argument holds water – that censoring political news and information in China is morally equivalent to blocking Nazi paraphernalia in Germany and France.

Philipp Lenssen [PersonRank 10]

15 years ago #

I think it's a fuzzy issue. Censoring nazi sites is a little less evil than censoring human rights sites, and censoring human right sites is a little less evil than handing over email account information, and handing over email account information is a little less evil than jailing the dissident yourself. However, they're all acts of the same line of thought, and often set precedents for each other, and I oppose all of them. For example, the Google CEO now uses the previous self-censorship handling in Germany as moral precedent of some sort:

<<Asked whether Google might try to persuade Beijing to change its restrictions, Schmidt said he didn't rule anything out, but said it hasn't tried to change such limits elsewhere. He noted that Google's site in Germany is barred from linking to Nazi-oriented material.>>

Don't burn books even if you think you burn the right books. And digital censorship is modern book burning. Google in Germany is "only" censoring the results to these sites, not the sites itself, but that's like saying they're only securing the area while someone else burns the books.

Often, these acts of cooperating with the gov't ruin more trust than any number like "only 2 dissidents" or "only 5% of searches" could express. If I know Yahoo Mail is cooperating with the Chinese gov't, I can't use it to voice my human rights concern over the Chinese gov't anymore, period – and that affects all mails. If I know some of the Yahoo search results are censored, I have reason to mistrust *any* Yahoo search results (and also be careful about what I'm searching for). If only 1 person is in jail for unjustified reasons, then everyone must be afraid to live and work in China and confront the Chinese gov't (or use western online tools whose leaders cooperate with the Chinese gov't). If I know that *some* morals don't need to be respected *some* of the time by *some* people... what keeps me from disrespecting all kinds of moral rules? That's the broken window phenomenon.

Google, Yahoo and others, by exposing their line of thought, also show us that they could do basically anything. E.g. their line of thought allows them to cooperate with Nazis. Their line of thought allows an image search to stop showing black people just because a segregationist gov't would ask them to ("we follow local laws" ... "we think showing at least some images helps spread the information better"). In the end it's always the same: such "evil" gov'ts need people to build their tools. The Nazis relied on IBM for parts of their work. If Einstein would have just followed local laws, instead of making sure he's preventing the Nazis from getting his technological inventions by going to the US, then this might be a different world today.

Now I don't believe Google is that bad – I just believe their arguments are logically flawed, and pretty much useless. But they might have become deaf to outside criticism... they've survived every kind of criticism so far (copyright issues with Google Books, Google News China omitting several sources, Gmail "privacy invasion" through ads, the acquisition of the Deja News usenet archive). But the results seem to prove them right, pragmatically speaking; everyone is still using Google, no law so far is making their decisions illegal, and news coverage of their China move dies down over time. As we can see, Eric Schmidt is now getting more and more self-assured over the decision.

/pd [PersonRank 10]

15 years ago #

then we must all go for this :)-

mahlon [PersonRank 1]

15 years ago #

Thanks, Philipp. I thought you'd have an informed opinion.

I agree that Google isn't evil. They struggled mightily with the decision to "burn digital books," and came up with a logically tortured rationale to proceed.

You've clearly been thinking about this a lot, and I could never say it as well as you have. I'd like to quote liberally from your post on

cner [PersonRank 1]

15 years ago #

Maybe everything goes from its origin.
People like freedom, company like money.
Chinese government like censored.

Seth Finkelstein [PersonRank 10]

15 years ago #

As a long-time free-speech activist, I'd like to point out I've seldom seen such a pure example of the slippery-slope argument being demonstrated.

Usually, slippery-slope arguments run "If we start censoring Nazi sites, then we'll end up censoring human-rights sites". And someone is sure to say "No, we can make a distinction, it won't happen" (sometimes in an aggressive way – "if you can't tell the difference, you are morally obtuse")

Mr Schmidt has graced us with a form of that argument so perfect one would think it fiction if we didn't know it was in fact real – "Because we have censored Nazi sites (in Germany) (there is no moral difference in), we then censor human rights sites in China"

Forum home


Blog  |  Forum     more >> Archive | Feed | Google's blogs | About


This site unofficially covers Google™ and more with some rights reserved. Join our forum!