What is going on with Google in China?

Written by Julen Madariaga on January 13th, 2010

images First of all, read this article posted on the Google official blog. It is all you need to read for the moment because there is no more first hand info out there yet.

It was published some 5 hours ago. What it says in a rather muddled way is essentially:

  1. That Google has detected attacks resulting in the theft of intellectual property, in particular on Gmail accounts in China, not through Google servers but just hacking users computers.
  2. That Google has evidence that similar attacks happened also to other major Western companies in various industries.
  3. That the information targeted was related to advocates of human rights in China.
  4. That because of all this, Google is not willing to continue censoring results on Google.cn and that “we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China.”

This is very surprising news and it is quickly making the rounds of the World Media. Here are some preliminary midday break thoughts. Excuse the Bullet points but I am too excited to do real prose:

Regarding the message and intentions

  • The message sounds inconsistent, because it is complaining against 2 completely different problems. 1- The email hacks affects many companies and it is not necessarily done by the Chinese authorities, neither it is directly related to Google. 2- The Google.cn Search Engine manipulation or SEM that we already saw here.
  • By involving other Western companies Google is apparently sending a signal to them that either they support Google in its plight or else they will be mentioned by name and bear with the PR consequences of that (G is dreaming if it thinks they will follow, as if Chemical companies have much left to loose in this department already)
  • Nowhere in the message it says there is evidence that Chinese authorities are responsible for the email hacks. While this might seem obvious, in Western culture there is a presumption of innocence to apply. The normal sequence is first to seek justice, and only when the authorities refuse justice then complain.
  • You may believe or not in the “non evilness” of Google, but for a company that is handling so much of our personal information, this is not completely disinterested. Non-evilness is Gold for the G, and the minute the World stops trusting Google, the whole expansion plan of of Google apps+phones goes down the drain.
  • It is not impossible then that a calculation is involved: by standing up to China, Google can gain more credit points Worldwide than what it loses leaving China, where its operations are probably not very profitable today. With the new Google phone, the battle to rule the Tech World is at its peak, and goodwill is going to be an important weapon against Apple and Microsoft.
  • Is Google essentially Non-evil, or is it Non-evil just because it suits its business? Is a lion evil because it eats a gazelle, is an oil company evil because it gives you products you want to buy? Such philosophical questions people will be asking today, but I think there is no point in going down that way. Google is a corporation, not a charity, and we should judge its actions first from that perspective.
  • For a company to try to “change the World” on its own is completely out of scope, it is pointless, it leads to its ruin, and it amounts to pursuing political objectives for which it has no legitimacy. If Google doesn’t want to have Google.cn censored, then they are right to force this, but coming up now with a sort of “retaliation” to the Chinese government for hacking activist emails is a different thing altogether.
  • In conclusion, the message sounds inconsistent and improvised, it is difficult to believe that it comes from a careful calculation.  I wonder who really writes that blog, but if this really comes from Google executives it is scary, especially from the shareholders POV. Regardless of the real intentions of Google, my first assessment is that the post is a BAD decision.

Some more thoughts on the consequences coming in my next post.

Sharing is free, support my work:

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • email
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Haohao
  • StumbleUpon
  • Technorati
  • LinkedIn
  • Netvibes
  • Reddit
  • Posterous
  • Live
  • QQ书签
  • MSN Reporter
  • 豆瓣
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • MySpace
  • FriendFeed
  • Print

Comments so far ↓

  1. Jan
    Jake Adelstein

    It’s not a bad decision-it’s a moral decision. There is a saying, attributed correctly or incorrectly to Chief Seattle, that goes like this: “He who is present at a wrongdoing and does not lift a hand to prevent it-he is as guilty as the wrongdoers.”
    Google seems to have detected hacking of their networks to out activists and individuals who want to express their freedom of speech and fight for their rights. It seems that that Chinese authorities are involved in doing it. We all know what happens to those who cross the government in that country.
    For Google to do nothing or say nothing would make them implicit in the evil, if you consider harming people evil, which I do,-in the evil that is being done. It may be a terrible business decision-but good God it would be nice to see someone in the business world make a decision with their heart instead of their wallet.
    I don’t care why they’re doing it and probably no one acts with pure motives-but I’d like to see them live up to their threat and take the moral high ground. And I don’t care why either. It could set a nice example.

    By the way, loved your book review of River Town. Peter Hessler and I hung out in high school back in Columbia, Missouri. He took the high path and has written great books about China-I ended up on the low path and wrote a book about the worst aspects of Japan. We met up back a few years ago in Tokyo when I was still on the police beat and he was visiting a mutual friend of ours working at the US Embassy. Planning on seeing him in March in our home town when his new book comes out. I’ll try and see if he can get you a promo copy.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Uln Reply:

    Wow, thats cool. I really admire P Hessler as a writer (in spite of not giving him 100% positive reviews) I think he is also coming this March to Sh Lit Fest, so I wont miss his chat there.

    Regarding Google decision: I don’t agree, Google message says the emails were accessed by hacking the computers, not the servers of Google themselves. As it is written in the initial blog by G, this and other forms of information control are not new at all, nor directly related to Google, so why take the decision now?

    And anyway, I see the moral side of the argument. But when it comes to a company with the responsibility of Google, I actions cannot be based only on “heart” or moral considerations but also on results: what if the result of this moral action is that things will become even worse?

    Another point of view: Did Google withdraw from the USA when the tortures of Irak were discovered? Or did it say something about the thousands of people the US killed in Irak or other countries without any moral justification?

    Chinese system is unjust and needs to change, but so are many other things, and the only way to change them is using out head, not just our hearts.

    [Reply to this comment]

  2. Jan
    greg pitts

    Id like people from china to see my art and possibly do shows

    [Reply to this comment]

  3. Jan

    It does not at all matter whether the message was consistent or not, It is just not about business and market for heaven’s sake. It is normal that we should help each other in this globalized environment. If we protest about a wrongdoing in the US, we should also protest about similar incidents in China or India. It is right to protest against any wrongdoing. Let the chinese government be kinder to its citizens.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Uln Reply:

    Sure, but companies don’t usually protest in public, it is individuals and associations that do.

    The main problem is in the form: if Google had decided to not accept China’s imposition of self-censorship, then that was fine. But as it stands, it is challenging China publicly, and that is way out of Google’s purpose and scope.

    [Reply to this comment]

  4. Jan
    Jake Adelstein

    A more concise version of what I was trying to say. I agree. Maybe I’m too damn liberal and not a realist but sometimes, sometimes, when you demand people act like decent human beings-they do.

    [Reply to this comment]

  5. Jan

    Very perceptive.

    I am categorically opposed to censorship. But I am very surprised that google announced this in a blog, rather than an official company statement.

    [Reply to this comment]

  6. Jan

    Google, owner of Blogger, largest Internet company in the world. When the Senior Vice President of Google, Chief Legal Officer, makes a BLOG post that *is* an official company statement. The guy who wrote the post signed the blog post, there really isn’t any room for speculation on that point.

    There’s also evidence that previously blocked searches have already started appearing in results on google.cn. This wasn’t some off the cuff statement, they were ready for it.

    [Reply to this comment]

  7. Jan

    @Mat- Sure about the blog. That is clear now.

    About the Google.cn, I don’t think so. I have been testing myself and there is little difference with the tests I did last year. Try “零八宪章” for example, Chinese for the Charter 08, and you will see all the results manipulated like they always were.

    [Reply to this comment]

  8. Jan

    Uh, can you just verify something for me? I just got the tank man on google.cn . It looks like they turned off the filtering already!

    [Reply to this comment]

Leave a Comment

5 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Google.cn hacked, Larry and Sergey say enough is enough
  2. KINABLOG.dk » Censur på internettet: Opsamling om Google og Kina
  3. What's up with Google in China | CHINAYOUREN
  4. About Google and America's war of the Internet | CHINAYOUREN
  5. the black China hand » Google.com.cn hacked! Larry and Sergey say enough is enough!