Wednesday, January 25, 2006

 

Google's Chinese Wall

To make all politically practical information available, just not to everybody

Google announced that it will assist China's fascist regime in censoring the internet:
After holding out longer than any other major internet company, Google will effectively become another brick in the great firewall of China when it starts filtering out information that it believes the government will not approve of.

Despite a year of soul-searching, the American company will join Microsoft and Yahoo! in helping the communist government block access to websites containing politically sensitive content, such as references to the Tiananmen Square massacre and criticism of the politburo.

Executives have grudgingly accepted that this is the ethical price they have to pay to base servers in mainland China, which will improve the speed - and attractiveness - of their service in a country where they face strong competition from the leading mandarin search engine, Baidu.

But Google faces a backlash from free speech advocates, internet activists and politicians, some of whom are already asking how the company's policy in China accords with its mission statement: to make all possible information available to everyone who has a computer or mobile phone.
Some bloggers, such as Vinny, take Google's side:
Like it or not, China has laws. If companies want to operate inside the borders of a country, they have to observe those laws. It really is that simple. Google’s position is absolutely correct. They have two real choices. Either follow the law or don’t do business there. By following the laws, they provide people in China with an internet search engine they’d otherwise have no access whatsoever to.

Isn’t that better for China than Google pulling out of the country altogether?
No. China's government is a repressive, facist dictatorship where the rule of law is, at best, capricious. Anything that helps such a regime maintain its grip on power is de facto bad for the Chinese people. (Remember Tiananmen Square?) Vinny, who is either indifferent to, or ingorant of, the plight of the Chinese people, continues:
The reality is that there are no private ISPs in China and the few internet cafes in the country are monitored heavily by the government anyway. In reality, even if Google were to open up every single document on the web, the government controlled internet of China would keep info out of Chinese hands anyway.
Though debatable, this is probably true. But for how long, given that all the dead or blocked links that many 'sensitive' searches would return would make obvious what was happening? And just why aren't there any private ISPs in China? Put simply, Google is facilitating information suppression.

On the upside, this issue will finally be getting some Congressional attention:
Google will be called to task in Washington next month following a controversial decision by the internet search engine to launch a China-based version of its website that will censor results to avoid angering the country's Communist government.

The decision by Chris Smith, a Republican congressman from New Jersey who chairs a House subcommittee on Human Rights, to call for a February 16 hearing to examine the operating procedures of US internet companies in China, represents the first signs of what could become a serious backlash against Google and other internet companies in Washington that are perceived as capitulating to the Chinese government.
This is a backlash which is long overdue.

UPDATE: Thomas Lipscomb observes:
Some years ago, as the Soviet Union was headed for its demise, a Moscow Book Fair was announced and publishers in the United States and throughout the world flocked to gain access to a huge potential new market. The Soviets promised an open market at the Fair to display what publishers felt were their best books most suited to the market. But as soon as the Fair opened, Soviet police moved in on publishers and confiscated books they felt might "feed agitation."

Other publishers, fearing this kind of action, had already self-censored the books they displayed or quickly removed them on the spot. Times Books, the general book publisher owned by the New York Times Company, immediately withdrew from the Fair, arguing that it was difficult to maintain First Amendment standards in the United States while conceding them elsewhere. A lively debate ensued, and the Moscow Book Fair was seriously diminished as a marketplace thereafter.

Perhaps in the 21st century, Google now believes the Wall Street film villain Gordon Gekko was right and "greed is good." It is hard to come up with any other explanation given Google's flexible definition of "evil." But thousands of American and allied troops are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan to bring repressed peoples access to more democratic institutions just as they have died to protect American freedoms in many wars before. Isn't it time Americans and their elected representatives pay more attention to their own cherished freedoms? Aren't the giant keiretsu companies that control American media too willing to suspend those freedoms wherever they interfere with their pursuit of profit?


Matto adds:
from Pointfive:

See more at Michelle Malkin

More:
Google comments about Google.cn. I'm not convinced. Still seems like their primary goal is $. While that is, of course, their main goal and their fiduciary duty to their shareholders, I believe that a great amount of Google's success is due to the good will that they have engendered by appearing as a young, scrappy, innovative company with a silly name. Most, I mean "most" as in 99.99% of web surfers, couldn't tell the difference between google search results and yahoo or jeeves (are they still around?) or Mamma, etc... Google's success is due to its popularity as a cultural phenomenon. Now many users' opinions have been tarnished, just a bit, and that can avalanche into severely diminished popularity.

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