A CNN report states that the company’s infrastructure was attacked and that the attack originated in China. The infiltration and surveillance was aimed at Chinese human rights activists in the United States, Europe and China. For a good overview of the history of Google’s relationship with China see CNET’s Tom Krazit.
Anyone who works in within the structure of the global economy and whose company or clients are working in China understands the risk. At this stage in the game China is a rocky proposition because it does not have the same privacy or intellectual property laws as most of the rest of the world. Labor is cheap, the workforce is educated, but there is little protecting your patens and intellectual property.
Free speech is meaningless there – and Google has worked hard to adapt to the Chinese landscape including censoring results displayed on Google.cn.
Take a moment and imagine a world where the government censored the internet?
Can you imagine? I can’t.
I applaud Google’s statement that they have decided to stop censoring Google.cn and want to talk to the Chinese government about operating an ‘unfiltered’ search engine. Most important they have stated they are willing to leave and walk away from one of the largest economies in the world in order to insure the safety of their information and by extension ours.
“Don’t be Evil.”
One of Google’s stated an aim in its initial pubic offering was “don’t be evil”.
“We believe strongly that in the long term, we will be better served-as shareholders and in all other ways-by a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short term gains. This is an important aspect of our culture and is broadly shared within the company.”
Their current course may lead them to leave the Chinese market which I am of two minds about.
First – I don’t want anyone hacking into Google’s databases searching for information about anyone and from the press release it appears that is a major factor in their decision.
Second – if Google and the other big search engines were to leave China that would create a power vacuum that the government could then fill providing even more control over the information viewed by their population.
So where is the good? The evil?
This isn’t an easy decision – even just looking at the moral grounds. My hope is that a compromise can be found. That somehow China will see the way clear to joining the world on more equal footing and that there will be economic pressures to meet Google halfway.
No matter what happens it will be historic and the impacts far reaching and mostly unknowable.
~ Tess Anderson