Blown To Bits

Google: We’re Re-Thinking China

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010 by Harry Lewis

I wrote in Blown to Bits about Google’s decision to do business in China, in spite of the need for censorship at the direction of the Chinese regime, notwithstanding Google’s mission statement about making information universally accessible. I thought this was the wrong decision, and I have argued that position publicly (winning against Esther Dyson, among others).

Google has now announced that in light of massive cyber-attacks on its servers from China, including attacks aimed at compromising the Gmail accounts of Chinese dissidents, it is reconsidering its decision to censor, and is even asking whether it can continue doing business in China at all.

These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered–combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web–have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China. We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on, and so over the next few weeks 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, and potentially our offices in China.

This is a huge decision. While I disagreed with Google’s decision to cooperate with the Chinese censors, I respected the fact that they couldn’t lightly walk away from the biggest business opportunity in the world. I also respected the fact that even the limited search they were offering enlightened many people about things of which they would not otherwise be aware (except that they could always use Baidu, the Chinese search engine).

So Google gets lots of credit for their promise to monitor the information freedom conditions in China and for standing on the principle that even if cooperation with evil is sometimes justified in the interest of a larger good, there are limits, and China has breached those limits.

In the war for digital liberty, chalk this up as a battle won for freedom.

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