Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Google vs Freedom? Or media spin...

Google's launch of a new, self-censored search engine in China is a "black day" for freedom of expression, a leading international media watchdog says.
Bollox. Headline news on BBC news, a feature on PM, and a few little caveats. Google faces a choice
  1. Abandon the largest, and fastest growing, market in the world to its rivals
  2. operate within that market
Google is a commercial entreprise. "Do no evil" is a nice little slogan, but you can't do any good if you're not there. Not really a choice, really, if they abandon China, they abandon one third of the worlds population, and the remarkable growth in the Chinese economy is something no commercial operation can ignore.

So, having made that commercial decision, they then have to make another choice
  1. Operate illegally within the market, but according to 'principles', and be pretty sure you'll get shut down
  2. Operate within the legal framework as set out by the recognised (and therefore legitimate) government
Again, not much of a choice, if they don't follow Chinese regulations, they get shut down. So, having made these business decisions, they then have an ethical choice. Do they do as other operations, set up and pretend all is well? Or do they subvert those regulations?
"Google has no choice but to give up to the Party," said one posting on the popular information technology Web site PCONLINE, signed simply "AS."

Google's move was prompted by frequent disruptions of the Chinese-language version of its search engine registered under the company's dot-com address in the United States.

Government filtering has blocked access or created lengthy delays in response time.

Google's senior policy counsel Andrew McLaughlin defended the new site as better serving Chinese customers.

"In deciding how best to approach the Chinese -- or any -- market, we must balance our commitments to satisfy the interests of users, expand access to information, and respond to local conditions," McLaughlin said in an e-mailed statement, .

McLaughlin said search results would be removed based on local laws, regulations or policies.

"While removing search results is inconsistent with Google's mission, providing no information (or a heavily degraded user experience that amounts to no information) is more inconsistent with our mission," he said.

There was no indication that Google would disable access to its .com site within China.

McLaughlin said the company wouldn't host its e-mail or blogging services in China that can be mined for information about users, and would inform users if information had been deleted from searches. Such messages appeared in searches for Falun Gong and other sensitive topics.
They're being honest, and they'll tell the users that they're being censored. On every search that they are censored for. They'll also link to their main .com in the US, which users may or may not be able to access through the firewall.

Google has many, many faults. It's privacy policies and data hoarding tendencies are subject to significant criticisms. But this one? They made the only decision they could, and are keeping their Chinese users fully informed. Outside pressure isn't going to give the residents of China their freedom. It may help, but that's all. Internal pressure will do that; the UK democratised as its economy developed. Taiwan democratised as its economy developed. Every time tells its users that they're being censored by the govt, the odds of change from within increase.

Criticise Google for the things it gets wrong. Not the things it gets right.


Ken said...

Is it morally right to enter into business dealings with a country like China?

It's also a tad hypocritical of Google to allow such huge censorship when they are embroiled in the row in the US.

MatGB said...

Is it morally right to not offer a service to the citizens of China?

It's not Google censoring, it's the Chinese govt. They haven't turned over info to get a journalist arrested and given 10 years (unlike Yahoo!).

"Yahoo is much worse than Google regarding censorship"- bloke on Radio 4 as I type, from Reporters sans frontieres I think.

Owen Barder said...

Companies (and governments) have justified all sorts of disgraceful behaviour down the years on the basis that "if we don't, someone else will" - from arms exports to courting unsavoury regimes.

What is needed is for everyone to stand firm: we will not cooperate in censorship. And if that means less access to fast-growing markets, so be it.