Google vs. China: All the possible WHYs?Written by Julen Madariaga on January 14th, 2010
I know, there are other news in the World, and I am probably not paying enough attention to them. But I can’t help it, I’ve been overclocking for the last 48h trying to understand Google’s decision, I have read every single article appeared on the internet since. And I still don’t get it.
I want to make this a collaborative page, I will keep it on top and I would appreciate comments with clues and POVs I might have missed. The objective is to come up with reasonable hypothesis and then cross out the wrong ones. I will also add interesting bits of info below as they come out:
Hypothesis: Why did Google stand up to the CCP? (UPDATES Below)
Business: We have seen that, with the info in hand, the decision doesn’t make sense from a pure business perspective. Who knows, you might say, perhaps the goodwill earned in the West will end up compensating for the loss of China, perhaps democracy will come soon. Yes, que sera sera. But that’s not how decisions are taken in business. There is a profit and a risk to consider, and when the gain is so uncertain and the loss so clear, it doesn’t make business sense. More on this below.
Ethical: Yes, “don’t do evil”, I know. Hello, all the corporations today have CSR and ethical codes, mine too, even if it is not as cool as Google. But really, a company doesn’t have feelings, it doesn’t respond to notions like love or ethics. Only people do that. And, in the case of Google, only Page, Brin and Schmidt have that kind of power. Did they suddenly get pangs of conscience and decided to follow their own principles at any cost? Some already suggest this might have been a personal decision influenced by Sergey Brin. More on the personal hypothesis below.
Checkmate: Google has some information about the Chinese industrial espionage activities that is still undisclosed, with evidence that would compromise the CCP, and possibly push it against the wall in some WTO proceeding. The victims include dozens of Western companies, and the crime is so outrageous that all those countries would be forced to stand up to the CCP as well. This could be Google’s ace in the hole, and it would explain the style of their blog post. This is the only winning hypothesis for the G. It deserves strong consideration, based on the premise that the 3 leaders of Google are Very Intelligent Guys.
Legal: The muddled style of the message and the bad moment chosen (we should be speaking of Nexus One right now!) makes me think that there might have been some pressing matter that pushed Google to do this. Like we said, the same goodwill could have been obtained by simply uncensoring Google.cn without writing a public accusation to the CCP. Is this a move to deslegitimate the Chinese system and avert an upcoming Chinese lawsuit? Did some of the activists threaten to sue Google for the leaks, or was it the Chinese authorities that were getting dangerous? Google Books? Porn on Google Images?
Political: We saw as well that the most likely political outcome is an increase of censorship in China, a net loss for the employees of Google and the Chinese netizens, and perhaps even a rise of nationalism and protectionist policies. There is no way that this move is going to help the Chinese in the short term. Even if there was: it is not and it can not be the role of a public company to actively engage in politics hand in hand with the US government. Need I remember anyone that the US government is today responsible for evil as severe as the CCP? More news here.
IP Protection: Google might have decided to force its way out of China because really it has detected some theft of IP so severe that it puts in danger the whole business. It is hard to believe that Google is unable to hide its own IP from the Chinese government. We are speaking of the same government that couldn’t even come up with a decent filtering software last year. Let’s just say this option is unlikely. Update: this hypothesis is stronger after rumour of a CCP mole, see Update 2 below.
Conspirational: Google has something to hide. It is something very big and very very weird, like E. Schmidt is an alien, or an irrecoverable bug has been found on Larry’s algorithm, or a Google databank in the US has been held by AlQaida and… and all this noise is just to distract our attention. This would be consistent with the quick messy post at the Google blog.
Personal: Larry Page and Sergey Brin are among the most admired persons in the universe, they are the Gods of the internet. They achieved that at a very young age, and they have spent the last decade sitting on the Google Search cash cow and freely recruiting the best intelligences in the World to conquer the internet and get more universal love than Jesus Christ. Their egos are shooting through the Googolplex roof, and they have decided to bring democracy back, coz them other CEOs don’t know how to act. Girl.
Macroeconomic: Google has obtained insider info on the financial position of some Chinese Banks and the superhuman brains of P and B have come up with a new algorithm predicting that the Chinese system is going to collapse tomorrow. They leave while they are still in time, collecting bonus World goodwill and defying a CCP that will not be there this time next year anyway…
Various/Spectacular: From Daily Beast via BoingBoing: “the reason they know it’s the Chinese government behind these attacks is because Google gave them the key”, “Your entire life, as stored on Google’s servers, may now be there for the taking.” and “Google is attempting to create a distraction.” Also from Posner in Daily Beast: The Red Menace is back, Google thwarts China’s plan to control the World with an army of hackers.
UPDATE: Danwei has collected some informations regarding the low profit that Google is getting in China. This would give some weight to the Business option above. However, it still doesn’t make any sense. They could have just uncensored Google.cn, get sent away with all the PR hoopla, and all the while not cross the CCP too much with the public accusations of email hacking. Because there is ABSOLUTELY no business interest in Google forcing things in a way that even Google.com and all the G services will be blocked. China can do that easily with the GFW.
UPDATE 2: The moles theory. ESWN translates from anonymous Chinese blogger claiming insider info: Google trusts its employees and gives them access to all the codes, suddenly discovered one of the employees is actually a CCP mole who’s been passing information, not only about activists but also Google’s own IP (actually from the initial G’s post it is not clear which of the two problems has moved Google).
Rings true to me, and explains why all employees in China are being sent on holidays. And yet, this doesn’t change much the situation. Wasn’t it pretty obvious that Google had CCP spies all along? Every company here has members of the CCP working in it, mine as well. And it is difficult to believe G was so naive as to not take precautions against this.
Moreover, the kind of people that work in Google are the best of the best universities, a high percentage of those people are members of the party here. The surprising thing would have been that there was NO moles in Google China.
I don’t think the big deal is the mole. Whether the hacks were done through moles or through other means is secondary, what is essential to the issue here is the Magnitude of the IP theft, and the Evidence G has, and possibly the other Companies involved. For the POLL, this theory is included in the IP Protection option above.
UPDATE 3: (h/t CDT) Newsweek interview Eric Schmidt: Decision based on values, not business. Mentions monitoring of dissidents, not technology IP theft. Says Google’s IPO specified Google would be different, maximizing profits was not the objective of Google Inc, so no responsibility to the shareholders.
But why why why? Why such a bad form? They could have done it more smoothly, and avert the risk of being completely banished from China. And why now, when the treatment of dissidents is known in China for years? Does it make any difference if hacks are done through a mole in Gmail or through Baidumail once Google is gone? And wouldn’t the right thing be to fight, and encrypt the email better, and give those dissidents a much needed support to stay alive?
Feel free to suggest other hypothesis, or else just vote below:
(POLL IS CLOSED)
Why do you think Google is leaving China? Total Voters: 91
Why do you think Google is leaving China?
Total Voters: 91