Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Google, China, and "Do No Evil"

Disappointing news from Mountain View, CA today, as Google announces that the Chinese version of its search engine (debuting Wednesday) will adhere free speech restrictions at the request of China's communist government. The AP reports:
Google agreed to omit Web content that the country's government finds objectionable. Google will base its censorship decisons on guidance provided by Chinese government officials.

Examples of objectionable content could include information about the Tiananmen Square massacre, Taiwan, Falun Gong, and the Dalai Lama.

In Google's defense, a company executive replied:
“While removing search results is inconsistent with Google’s mission, providing no information (or a heavily degraded user experience that amounts to no information) is more inconsistent with our mission.”

Necessary evil? It's debatable. I've blogged about this topic before in connection with Yahoo! and Shi Tao, and realize there are no easy answers. But what makes this news all the more disheartening is that it flies contrary to the company's famous and long-standing philosophy of "Do No Evil." One of the chief aspect's of Google was its reputation as a white knight of industry that led by example. On Google's homepage, you can look up their corporate philosophy, which they sum up in a list of "Ten things". The list, by the way, includes the following:
4. Democracy on the web works.

6. You can make money without doing evil.

And my favorite:
8. The need for information crosses all borders.

CB Archive:
"In China, 'Business as Usual' is Bad" (Sep. 19, 2005)


ABT said...

So...what DO you suggest they do?

Zhangfile said...

For a record of just some of the things China is doing, see CHINA FILE a Blogger blog. Nearly every blog critical of China was blocked until recently; you coldn't pull them up on Blogger Search. It seemed kinda evil to me!

Jay said...

Sorry for the late response here, ABT. Despite the extra time to ponder, I don't have a satisfying answer. One point I would like to make, which I haven't heard brought up, is that Google's assertion--basically "some information is better no information"--has huge problems.

If the average person in China was looking up, say, the Dalai Lama or Falun Gong, they would get a completely skewed picture of reality. They would only be able to read gross slanders against the ruling Party's critics, and only favorable assessments of the government. This could have the effect of slowing political reform in China, because many Chinese would be led to believe that their government was great and that there was no legitimate grounds for criticism of the rulers.