Google Nation’s Sovereignty Abused, Threatens to Recall its Ambassador

At some point over the last week, my respect for Google as an enterprising information technology company changed significantly – into outright infatuation.  Here is the company that brought the world the most efficient search engine to date (for free), the most reliable internet-based mapping and direction service (for free), the most awe inspiring planetary recreation simulations for the Earth, the Moon, and Mars (for free), the most spectacular widely available star browsing simulation, Google Sky (for free), the most widely used website translation engine (for free), the first truly robust trend analyzer for social memes on the internet, Google Trends (for free), the most fair and thorough news aggregator around (for free), and so much more.  They offer all of this free technology, but still rake in billions a year using the least intrusive advertising model I’ve ever seen.  Furthermore, this is all buoyed by their “Don’t be evil” code of ethics.  They literally test the evilness of their endeavors before undergoing them.

That’s what makes China such a headache.  The government there requires Google’s search results to meet stringent requirements as they relate to pornography, political and historical sensitivities, and other web content.  To see this difference in action, follow this Google image search for Tiananmen square protest at google.cn and then the same search at google.com (remember this is supposed to be the same internet).  To quote Google CEO Eric Schmidt, “We concluded that although we weren’t wild about the restrictions, it was even worse to not try to serve those users at all.  We actually did an evil scale and decided not to serve at all was worse evil.”

That is until January 12th, when Google revealed that it was the target of a highly sophisticated hack originating from China targeting the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists.  The veracity and quality of the attack led investigators to believe that it originated from, or was committed with the assistance of, Chinese government authorities.  In light of this, Google announced that it will cease censoring it’s search results, and is considering withdrawing its business from China entirely.

Google has always argued that they weren’t in the Chinese market for the money.  They claim that encouraging social change through the freedom of information was their primary goal.  They did stand to  make a lot of loot, China has more internet users than any other country, but since they arrived in 2006, they have encroached into less than 20% of the Chinese search engine market share.  By pulling out, they stand to lose an estimated $600 million in 2010 revenue alone.

Feeling Lucky?

Google seems on the surface to be giving up on their social agenda, while losing out on the biggest burgeoning internet market for decades to come.  So how can they do it?  The answer lies at the core of internet censorship.  Web users view censorship as a detour, not a stop sign.  While Napster is dead, downloading music and movies has never been easier.  Google may hope to do the same in China.  Chinese computer users are very savvy, and use wingates, proxy servers, VPNs, and every other tool at their disposal to bypass current information restrictions (albeit mostly for pornography and not to avoid revisionist history, but c’est la vie).  In this manner, Google may reach its goals more easily from outside the country than from within.

Additionally, this episode has become a global drama, with many western countries condemning China and lauding Google’s approach.  In effect, Google has become its own nation, a widely disparate group of people unconfined by borders but united by common cause.  Now the question is, with Google Nation threatening to withdraw its ambassador, will China acquiesce, or close the embassy doors?

Thanks to Slate’s Farhad Manjoo for intellectual inspiration.

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~ by Wil Finley on January 17, 2010.

One Response to “Google Nation’s Sovereignty Abused, Threatens to Recall its Ambassador”

  1. Google makes me horny….

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