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Mahlon [PersonRank 1]

Friday, May 5, 2006
15 years ago3,365 views

Google (and Yahoo, Microsoft and Cisco) argue that they have no choice. But Google's choice wasn't between censorship or nothing, but between censorship and degraded performance.

Naturally Google hates slow response times and 10% blockage of google.com, but their argument isn't so compelling when told this way.

If Google were known as the golden, unadulterated info source, users would find a way to get to Google – even if access is slow and intermittent. Instead, Google is now just one of the crowd.

If Google stood up against censorship, the contrast between Google and everyone else would not only elevate Google's brand and trust, but it would shine a bright light on the insidious practice of censorship and repression of political thought. This contrast could help accelerate the relaxation of information controls, not enhance the capability of the government to censor and intimidate.

If Google took a stand, even now, it would be better for Google, better for Google shareholders, and might even be better for citizens of repressive governments than a cynical policy of "engagement."

Euphrosyne [PersonRank 1]

15 years ago #

> Was this the first time Google officially stated that economic
> reasons played a role in their decision to enter China?

Well, they weren't fooling anyone by not saying it directly, but I don't think they were trying to fool anyone either. The 90% functionality may be OK for text-based search, but anyone can see that it's not going to hold up for the more bandwidth-intensive services that Google wants to offer in the future (the same ones we're all so excited to use). I love the new Reader module for the Google homepage--but that's exactly the type of thing that wouldn't be practical to serve through the bottlenecked Firewall. Of course economics was involved; but that doesn't reduce the validity of any other arguments for the move (or increase the validity of arguments against).

Censorship is a topic that we in the West love to preach about (and rightly so), but frankly, the much more relevant socio-political problem in China is the widespread, institutionalized corruption. Corruption at every level of government (and business as well) affects the average PRC citizen on a daily basis. Censorship is a distant second in most people's daily lives, and not high on their list of concerns.

If, by organizing and delivering relevant information better than the others, Google provides Chinese citizens with a tool to fight petty corruption, the political atmoshpere will slowly but surely change. Once corruption is minimized, high-level political change will be unavoidable as the citizenry demands it--but until then, the communist regime and its ugly censorship policies are secured by these more mundane (and less easily solved) realities.

If Google refused to enter China, the Communist leaders wouldn't care a bit. It wouldn't hasten political change at all. It would only allow a small percentage of Western citizens to feel smug while Google's profits and valuation declined. Now, Google entering China might not affect things for the better either--but there is at least that chance. I think that the bigger truth here is that Google's actions aren't going to make a real difference either way. Google is merely betting that sooner or later, the current regime will falter, and they want to be there when it does. If they wait until that day, no one's situation is improved.

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