Google & China Trade Threats

Posted by in Technology

Google's Beijing office in Tsinghua Science Park.

photo by pamhule

Google and China are at it again. Google announced January 12th that agents hacked into their system and attempted to access information stored on Google servers regarding Chinese political dissidents. While Google has been careful not to make any direct accusations, it is very clear that they feel these acts were carried out by or on behalf of the Chinese government. Chinese officials continue to deny their involvement in the attacks even when the hackers have been traced to a prominent Chinese technical university and vocational school with ties to the Chinese military. Google has subsequently stated that if it can not reach an agreement with Chinese officials to operate its search engine unfiltered it will close down its operations in China. The government has made it very clear that they currently have no intentions of lifting any content restrictions and that if Google removes censorship there will be “consequences.” As the fastest growing economy in the world, the profits that are available in China should Google stay and compete are substantial.

If they pull out, Google sends a message to other companies that currently do business in China.  Corporations now have a responsibility to act with a conscience. China has a long and sordid history of human rights violations. Even as the country modernizes the government continues to cling to its oppressive cold war ways. During the 2008 Summer Olympics the world witnessed first hand what marvels the Chinese people are capable of, but often times the plight of the Tibetan people or even Chinese citizens who speak out against the government were swept under the table. Google finds itself in a unique situation. The service they provide is directly linked to self-determination. The internet is the greatest collection of information in the history of mankind and freedom to access that information unfiltered is a necessary human right in the digital age. With well over 400 billion queries per day, Google is the lens through which most people view this information. When Google dilutes access at the request of any government it is adding a bias and becoming a tool of that government rather than of the people.

“Don’t be evil” is the informal slogan of Google and its meaning is cast in sharp relief against the China dilemma. After the January 12th ultimatum negotiations have been slow. Google is understandably nervous about removing the censorship from its site without the consent of the government, because doing so could endanger Google employees working in its China offices. However, the stonewalling of Chinese officials makes it more and more likely that Google will be forced to do just that or else close its offices for good. While negotiations are ongoing Google continues to hire for its China offices, so obviously losing its foothold in China is a worst-case scenario. Considering the millions in advertising dollars the company stands to loose, Google remains hopeful that it can operate free and uncensored. However, doing so is going to require cooperation from the government.  If Google can secure this cooperation not only will it be a victory for their business, but a milestone for free speech in a part of the world that has long lacked such liberty. It will also set a precedent for the free market’s triumph over oppressive regimes. The ball is in their court; the eyes of the world are on Google.

Some More Good Articles:

Read Write Web – What Will Google Do In China

The New York Times – China Issues Another Warning To Google On Enforced Censorship Of The Internet

Ars Technica – China And Google Playing Game Of Chicken Over Censorship

Ars Technica – China Warns Google Partners As Censored Results Leak Through

Financial Times – Google ‘99% Certain’ To Shut China Engine

Read Google’s Original Statement:

Official Google Blog – A New Approach To China