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Google, China, DOJ and Evilness

January 27, 2006 - 1 Comment

As always, this is just me talking, but I have to agree with Google on their recent positions with regards to their China site as well as not complying with the subpoena from the U.S. Justice Department for search information, even though it calls their corporate mantra of “Do No Evil” into question. Here’s why: Agree or disagree with China’s censorship policies, some internet in China is definitely better than no internet. They are a sovereign nation and while I may disagree with them keeping information from their citizens, that is their right under their own laws. We cannot place our U.S. or French or German or British sensibilities or values on them. Further, Google (any other company) has to comply with the local laws where they want to do business. I would also argue that in order to change a situation you disagree with (if that is your goal) it certainly helps to have a seat at the table so that your voice can be heard.The reason I don’t think they should comply with the Justice Department subpoena is because it could ultimately end up harming the very thing that generates revenue for them…eyeballs. In my view, this subpoena business is a slippery slope. If I as a user of Google (they, who are clearly moving to more and more personalization so they can further target ads at me) rightly or wrongly feel that they might give up any of my personal information to the government if asked, I might be a little less confident in using their sites and services…I might even leave altogether if I felt that I couldn’t trust them to protect my e-mail, my pictures, my searches, etc. If they are made to comply with the subpoena, I’m sure they will and they should, but since they aren’t even a party to the underlying investigation that Justice is conducting in the first place, it makes it a little easier for them to respectfully not comply. (Disclaimer: I am not an attorney and don’t know the law in this area, but that clearly is not stopping me from having an opinion).So, those are my two cents on this. I understand the unenviable bumper sticker position that this puts Google in (“Google complies with Chinese Law, but not U.S.”), but I believe they are doing the right thing. Google CEO Eric Schmidt said at the World Economic Forum today that they felt that offering a censored version of their search engine would be “less evil” than boycotting the country altogether. With internet users in China having grown from 80,000 in 1995 to over 130,000,000 in 2005 it looks like the insatiable appetite for information continues and also helps validates his point. A seat at the table is better than not having one at all.

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  1. Most Chinese are no more inclined to use the internet as a political space than they would be to use Tiananmen square as a political space.