January 12, 2010 |
Today the news agencies, mainstream media and the blogosphere are all abuzz about Google’s decision officially announced earlier today regarding the company’s intention to stop censoring search results on Google.cn, the search giant’s destination site in China. Back in 2006 Google was heavily criticized for their decision to agree to implement censorship on the site at all – but since it was the only way for the company to enter the giant (and growing) online market in China, the decision was that censored search was better than no search at all.
Now they make a different decision after they uncovered numerous hacker attacks on Gmail accounts belonging to Google, some other corporations that have not been named (at least 20 of them exist based on the information available to Google) and accounts of human rights activists in China. The damage was not really significant judging by the explanation coming from Google but one thing was clear: the attacks originated in China and the fact that Chinese proponents of human rights were among those under attack suggests that the attacks must be connected to the official authorities of the country.
So as a reaction to these attacks, Google now makes a decision to stop censoring search results for the Chinese people – fully realizing that it will probably mean that all their operations in China may need to be closed because this will hardly be acceptable to the authorities now.
Om Malik went on to point to the amounts that Google will be losing in revenue if they actually exit China – and while the amounts are huge, it is obvious that Google will have to face them if they do decide to act as promised. But in the end of the post Om suggests another point of view that – while cynical and everything – seems to have a basis anyway. He suggests that for some people it may be possible to think that this whole story is merely about exiting the market that is unfavorable for the company.
And while Om brushes the point of view aside as unlikely, unfortunately I can’t help but disagree with him here as the cynic in me suggests that it is somewhat strange to finally decide censorship is not the right thing to do – after censoring search results on Google.cn in China for years only for the chance of getting to China at all.
What’s more, if you really only mean to stop censorship once and for all, what’s the point in reporting on the situation to the Secretary of State – thus initiating official actions and the US government demanding explanation from China? Is it really how they want to fight against censorship in China – something that they have been putting up with since 2006 – with tons of disapproving voices everywhere but still putting up?
So after agreeing to censor search results in China, now they have decided it was time to stop that activity – and briefed the Secretary of State on the situation so Hillary Clinton can now raise concerns regarding censorship and human rights in China and demand an explanation from the Chinese authorities. But can you tell me exactly why Google did not ask for some similar help from the government in the past – when they were discussing the conditions of entering China and agreeing to censor content for the country? Was it that they realized that Chinese government would simply decide to ignore any official demands at the time and would simply deny Google access to the huge market?
No matter how brave Google’s latest decision may look to be, it is pretty difficult not to notice a simple fact: despite of being allowed to enter the country, Google is not really making any significant progress over there – losing the marker share to the local search giant Baidu and obviously losing revenue they expected to see in the country. Is not this latest move an attempt to hide their decision to leave the market that generates nothing but shame over being unable to compete with Baidu?
At that I realize the similarities with Russia where I live and with situation around Google here. The international search giant cannot brag about successes in terms of the market share in web search in Russia, it was even banned from acquiring Russian contextual advertising network Begun which was hardly good for their business in the country. Finally, Russia is known for problems with freedom of speech as our government is not always willing to let people freely express exactly what they think – online or offline.
What’s more, I do realize that Russian hackers tend to be aggressive in the world wide web – so why not identify some attacks from them on Gmail – or any other Google service at that – and initiate a similar campaign against Russia as well? Unfortunately I have a feeling that probability of such a campaign will strongly depend on Google’s business results in the country and on how good they sell ads here and will hardly have anything to do with their “do no evil” motto at all.