Google: China entry raises issues of morals vs. money
By Mike Langberg
Mercury News (Ca.) 24 Jan. 2006 - Now is the time for Google to change its motto from the overly ambitious "Don't Be Evil'' to the more realistic "Don't Be More Evil Than Necessary".
You can't live in the real world without making compromises, as Google is now tacitly admitting by launching its first Internet search operation based in China.
To run an Internet business in China, companies local and foreign must sign an agreement to effectively censor themselves -- removing or blocking any information China's repressive government might find objectionable.
Google has now signed that agreement. The search service it will run within China won't point to Web sites of dissident groups such as Falun Gong, or sites advocating independence for Taiwan. And the service certainly won't offer reports on how Chinese police recently responded to unarmed protesters in small villages by shooting them.
There's also more than a little irony in Google announcing the move this week, after the company got headlines last week for defying U.S. government requests to hand over information about its users' online behavior. Such defiance wouldn't be tolerated for a minute in China; Google would get immediately booted out of the country.
Sergey Brin and Larry Page were idealistic young Stanford University graduate students when they started Google in 1998. Much of that idealism still survives.
In April 2004, they wrote a "founder's letter,'' included in the documents for Google's initial public stock offering, where they cited "Don't Be Evil'' as a corporate goal.
"We believe strongly that in the long term, we will be better served . . . by a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short-term gains,'' the pair wrote. "We aspire to make Google an institution that makes the world a better place.''
I believe Brin and Page, now both 32, have largely succeeded. Google has certainly made my life better -- I use it dozens of times every day to quickly find information that would otherwise take me hours to track down.
But I also believe the Mountain View company will tie itself in knots unnecessarily if it doesn't acknowledge the ambiguities in managing a multi-billion-dollar corporation operating all around the planet.
Andrew McLaughlin, a Google lawyer, tackled those ambiguities in a prepared statement released Tuesday.
"In order to operate from China, we have removed some content from the search results available on Google.cn in response to local law, regulation or policy,'' McLaughlin said. "While removing search results is inconsistent with Google's mission, providing no information . . . is more inconsistent with our mission.''
In other words, the lesser evil of knuckling under to China's odious censorship rules is outweighed by the greater good of providing Google to China's population of 1.3 billion.
McLaughlin further said Google will introduce other services in China, such as e-mail and blogging, "only when we are comfortable that we can do so in a way that strikes a proper balance among our commitments to satisfy users' interests, expand access to information, and respond to local conditions.''
My translation: Google doesn't want to respond to a search warrant from China's police, as Yahoo did last year, only to discover it has caused a political dissident to be packed off for a long prison sentence.
Sooner or later, though, Google will encounter a stark choice between money and morals if it keeps doing business in China. The same will be true in many other countries whose governments don't believe their citizens deserve unfettered access to information.
Here's one example of a translated result you would get from China-Google...pretty distorted from the truth!
Excerpt from CNN Student News by Monica Lloyd:
CHINOY: Even before Google's move, Beijing had constructed what's been dubbed the Great Firewall of China, to keep sensitive information out. So this is how it works. On this computer, I've brought up Google.com and I'm going to put in the name of one of the Chinese organizations the government hates the most: The Falun Gong spiritual group. There are 4,390,000 entries. The first one is Falun Gong's own homepage. There's another that's about Falun Gong's leader, further down others that are supportive of Falun Gong -- one from religioustollerance.org.
Now I'm going to put the same name in at the Google.cn Web site that's designed just for China and see what we get. This time there are 11,000 entries, but of a very very different character. The first one, Falun Gong
practitioners jailed for libeling the government, another outlawing the Falun Gong cult, another the Falun Gong's anti-humanity, anti-science anti-society nature; all parroting the Chinese government's line. A dramatic example of an American company is helping the Chinese authorities control the message that goes out to their people. Read more...
Timesonline (UK): Critics Attack Google's 'Black Day' in China