In January, 2010, Google took a strong moral stand, declaring that it was no longer willing to censor its search results and might pull out of China if it came to that. Google has millions of users in China and if the company were to discontinue its China operations, it could lose a vast chunk of its Chinese customer base and huge sums of revenue along with it. Yet Google has been adamant not to give in to the unreasonable and unethical demands of the Chinese government, and was preparing itself to do whatever it deemed was the right thing to do, no matter what the consequences may be (Butterfiled, 2010).
Before Google started its Chinese services in 2005, Google. com was accessible in China but in a limited way. The government used to restrict the search results heavily. Baidu. com was the more popular search engine in China. Even when Google. cn came, Baidu remained no. 1, but Google’s use has been growing. Google then expressed its willingness to voluntarily comply with the government’s Internet censorship laws, thereby making the censorship of its search results self-imposed. This Google did thinking that it could better serve the cause of freedom of information by working along with the government rather than against the government.
By voluntarily submitting itself to the “Golden Shield Project,” Google thought that it would have more bargaining power with the government in allowing relatively better access to the search results. Flouting the government’s censorship policies, on the other hand, could result in serious disruption of Google services or severe degradation of the quality of Google’s search results. Therefore though it was morally abhorrent to the Google’s management to lamely give in to Chinese government’s paranoid censorship policies, they had to do it for practical reasons.
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Still, Google was censured by the critics for doing so. And then in January of 2010, Gmail accounts of a couple of Chinese human rights activists were hacked, as it was found out, by attacks originating from mainland China. Only the Chinese government had the motive to do so. In the wake of increasingly objectionable and dangerous activities of the Chinese government, Google had to reconsider its decision to cooperate with it. That Google itself became a victim of a cyber attack by the Chinese government changed the way Google looked at the situation.
At that time Google had an ulterior plan which was not revealed. The company only stated that it would overcome the problem of censorship without going outside the legal framework. Now, in China it was not possible lawfully to do away with censorship. What Google said made sense only after it made the move. From March 22, 2010, Google began rerouting all the traffic coming to Google. cn site to Google. com. hk, i. e. , Google Hong Kong. Hong Kong is part of China and yet it operates within a separate judicial framework. Its judicial power is not subject to most of Chinese laws (Helft, Barboza, 2010).
This was the irony of the situation: Google was contemplating to pull down Google. cn for ethical reasons, namely, depriving people of right information or abetting in the spread of disinformation by censoring the Internet is ethically unacceptable; but if it proceeded with its proposal it would be instrumental in bringing about more darkness into the already bleak Internet scene of China. Google’s move away from China could in fact have many more repercussions too. It could, for example, send a signal to other foreign Internet companies wanting to come to China that this country is an inhospitable place to work from.
In all, the position of an average Chinese Internet user who seeks to browse Internet for learning and knowledge would be severely disadvantaged. Internet in China could end up becoming “Chinternet,” markedly different from the global Internet (Chao, Worthen, 2010). The regular prominent global Internet sites and services such as Amazon and MSN Messenger are being less and less used in China, and are giving way to indigenous substitutes. Yahoo and Ebay have already exited the scene. Facebook is blocked in China.
On the one hand, it is a matter of principle for Google not let its search results be heavily censored, a principle which it could put aside for sometime but not for long. On the other hand, if it left China just like it said it would, some very undesirable consequences could follow which would not be good either for China or for the world. If it had no alternative, Google should have compromised on its principle and continued its China operations bearing the burden of censorship. But fortunately, Google had an easy option out, which was to move its base to Hong Kong.
- Butterfiled, L. (2010). No more Google in China. ICT Blog. Retrieved May 31, 2010 http://weblog. savetibet. org/2010/03/26/no-more-google-in-china/
- Chao, L. Worthen, B. (2010). Google. cn search engine close to being shut down in China. The Wall Street Journal. March 31, 2010. Retrieved May 31, 2010 from http://www. theaustralian. com. au/business/news/googlecn-search-engine-close-to-being-shut-down-in-china/story-e6frg90x-1225840856086
- Helft, M. , Barboza, D. (2010). Google shuts China site in dispute over censorship. March 22, 2010. Retrieved May 31, 2010 http://www. nytimes. com/2010/03/23/technology/23google. html
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