Maria Holland

Google’s position on China might be many things, but moral it is not

In Uncategorized on January 16, 2010 at 1:36 am

So Google’s confrontation is big news in China right now, or would be if information was free enough for people to actually hear about it.  I’m relatively interested, as are China’s more informed ‘netizens’.  I just read an article discussing the morality of their position and would like to share some of my thoughts and other people’s comments.  This is somewhat out of my normal post material (and I already posted for today) but as the subject matter touches so close to home, and is so relevant to my life here in China, I figured I would share with those who are interested.   

One man argued that by establishing a presence and then vocally withdrawing, they’re acting as a model for the Chinese people – a free speech martry, if you will.

Actually, it’s working out even better in terms of sparking the Chinese people’s resolve against censorship because they now have a very big example of a company refusing to abide it. In essence, Google has given the Chinese people itself as a martyr for the cause of free speech, by first accepting censorship to gain a foothold and then reversing that and fighting valiantly against it.

The only problem I have with this statement is that there are so many people who stood up to injustice, but remain unknown.  Also, Facebook and Twitter were long since internet martyrs and their disappearance is accepted unquestioningly by those Chinese students I’ve talked to.  They know it exists, they know that they can’t access it, and they use the alternate, China-approved programs without complaint. 

A lot of people are saying that this decision is a carefully calculated move – either a demand they think will be met, or perhaps an excuse to pull out of a market they’re not winning.  Google is China’s 2nd most used search engine, behind Baidu, but I find it hard to view that as a failure. 

Google had 30% of the market share in China (6 times more than Yahoo China), in a market that is going to continue to grow as more and more chinese from the rural areas get access to internet, this is a very bold move.

Apparently internet search must be the only market in the world where holding 30% of the market share is a bad position, I am pretty sure GM would kill to go back to the 30% of the good old days.

The stupidest comment was definitely this one:

Does no one else see this as an atempt to gain marketshare?

Won’t more chinese people start using a non-censored search engine versus a censored one?

The only thing that might force them out of the market, IMHO, would be the chinese government

Man, that’s a great idea – as if Google could just stop censoring their results and have no consequences except a general migration of users from Baidu.  There’s just that one little problem – “the chinese government”. 

Anyway, a lot of the comments were pretty interesting thoughts on morality.  I read an article recently that posited that charitable donations don’t “count” unless they’re voluntary, which I strongly disagree with.  The kid you’re helping to feed doesn’t care why you gave money, and by a similar token I think it doesn’t matter why you decide to stand up for freedom (although how you do so does matter). 

The *position* IS moral. What Paul is really arguing is that the motivations for it aren’t. Who cares? It’s actions that bring about change.

Also, while I wasn’t aware enough back in ‘02 when Google first entered China, that was also the subject of much debate.  In the end, they decided to enter because they figured the information they could provide was beneficial enough to outweigh the burden of censorship. 

Google admitted from the beginning that censoring their search results is wrong. But they said not providing any service at all is more wrong.

Now that the equation also includes cyberattacks going after dissidents’ emails, staying in China isn’t worth it unless they can deliver uncensored results. Let’s pretend that China let them remain in China with uncensored results. Would Google then leave? Not likely.

Finally, there were a few commenters who pointed out that, while everyone is quick to judge Google’s actions (comparing it to a man who beats his wife for years before stopping), many people don’t take such stands in their everyday lives.  I see problems with China as I see problems all over the world and I’m not calling for a complete ban on all interactions (obviously), but for those who denounce Google for ever accepting the government’s rules:

where was your computer and all of its sundry parts built?

beat _your_ wife today?


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