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Google v. China: Your Thoughts

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What are your thoughts on Google threatening to pull out of China this past week?  Is China's top down, centralized control simply incompatable with the openness of the internet, and do you think, as Tarak Modi wonders, that others will follow Google's lead?

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  • I think Google always knew being in China maybe fraught with troubles regarding what content they can and cant show. However, I am sure they went into China as the search market there is worth a fortune...I just dont think they thought they would find email accounts being under attack...

    Obviously it becomes hard to "trade" in a country which seems to want to stop you doing what essentially is your purpose, for Google, that's provind links to content that matches a users search. Though not a show stopper, having your servers and customer email accounts targetted is and I think this may well see Google cutting their losses and leaving the China marketplace for quite sometime. (I am sure they will return though, as the size of the market is too big a carrot)

  • I am not sure when there has been a case where I can say I am impressed by a company's move, from an ethical or philosophical standpoint, but this is one.

    Every other action companies take that is spun as taking the moral high ground really is motivated by self-interest. In this case Google is willing to risk dollars for the right position of freedom of information, and it is the right message to send to an authoritarian government.

    This will be interesting to watch.

  • Last week was indeed a week of shocking news stories including the breaking news about contention between one of the worlds leading corporations (Google) and one of the worlds strongest economies (China). And as I've followed the unfolding events, I have pondered several things:

    1. Google has all but pointed their finger at the Chinese Government being behind the attacks. This leads me to believe that the attacks and the potential damages might be significantly higher than what is being told to us currently.

    2. Google has taken a strong moral position on the freedom of information on the Internet by stating that they will not censor search results on Google.cn. This might mean that if the Chinese govenernment does not relent Google might close its doors in China for good. We can be sure that other companies - not just Internet/Web ones - are watching this very closely and what they do will definitely depend on what happens between Google and China.

    3. Google is a distant second to Baidu in China with no foreseeable chance of ever becoming #1 unless something drastically changes? Is Google using the recent cyber attacks as a lever to gain a competitive advantage in China with uncensored searches. After all, Google has a much better chance of gaining substantial market share from Baidu in an uncensored, open market. Taking the moral high ground is good for Google's image as well.

    4. Today there are at least 18 cybersecurity bills before Congress with none having a clear majority. Most cyber security experts agree that nations such as China and Russia threaten the security of American government and private-sector key IT systems. Consider that the Pentagon has spent more than $100 million in only 6 months responding to and repairing damage from cyber attacks. Hopefully, the congress will finally get its act together in this critical matter and pass a cyber security bill with some real teeth to protect our national interests - public and private.

    I'm sure, we've only seen the beginning of what is surely to be a memorable event in the history of IT.

  • Sometimes we are very naive in our approaches to regimes like China - Let's go with what they tell us and change things from the Inside! Guess what? Never happens! The Chinese just seem to be shrugging their shoulders and saying "whatever!". To think that Google leaving China would somehow affect them more than Google is just wishful thinking! Like air rushing into a vacuum - many Chinese search companies will fill the void!

    If you have principles, you need to hold them up right from the beginning, not just when your thief friend proves to be a thief , after all, not the person you were hoping to change him into, forever!

  • I think it's important to recognize the competing philosophies here and how they may play out in the future as China becomes more important in the digital landscape.

    By standing up to China, Google is stating it's opinion on the internet which is that it does not live in any physical location and thereby cannot be subject to local laws. China, obviously, feels differently and feels that the internet accessed in their country is subject to all local laws.

    The implications of this will be seen dramatically as Baidu (already one of the most visited sites on the web) expands. A move like this from Google sends a signal to the rest of the world. Google will not compromise its values. Baidu, however, is in the pocket of the Chinese government. As these two companies grow and start to compete in more than just search in China, we may look back and view this move by Google as very strategic and not made purely on ethical grounds.

  • There's no doubt this move was not made purely on ethical grounds -- that's only the marketing portion of the move. If Google really felt that way they wouldn't have played ball from the beginning.

    And there really wasn't much real risk for Google here. They were far behind Baidu and weren't generating profits in China that were material to their financials, so they have little downside and very high upside from their standing in the Western world. What Google may have to worry about in China is a merger between Baidu and Microsoft, rebranded as Baidu-Bing (rimshot sound effect). Who wouldn't want to search on that site? :)

    What does worry me relates to Ely's note about Google not thinking it has to abide by China's rules because they're delivering content over the Internet. That is the slippery-ist of slopes. What if tomorrow they don't want to play by France's rules or Germany's or any other states. Frankly, it's a dumb position to take if it's true.

    I think it boils down to China and Google having competing business propositions: Google's stated mission is to organize the world's information, but China wants to control it's own. This has all the makings of a Thunderdome match, but I don't believe that Google can win on the existing playing field, nor do I believe that public opinion will make a whit of difference. It hasn't affected China's position on human rights, Tibet, Taiwan, why should Google fare any better?

    Now the NYT's Roger Cohen has a nice piece today (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/15/opinion/15iht-edcohen.html?partner=rss&emc=rss) that talks about China's real problem with this situation: China's economy is based on an open, global economy and at some point that's going to require a open sharing of information. So they don't have a sustainable position. But if something happens, it won't be because of Google.

  • The essence of the Web is oneness. In the Long Term political censorship of content, like the Chinese government's censorship will fail. However, do not think that the Chinese are the bad guys and Google the good guys. A company adopting the slogan "don't be evil", should not enter the Chinese market accepting censorship in the first place. Google adventure in the Chinese market is not a success story: Beidu is the leading Search Engine in the Chinese market and probably will continue to lead that market. Now Google's threat to stop its services in China could be seen as motivated by its position in the Chinese market rather than its principles.
    In a post in my blog I asked the question: Will Google survive until 2018? http://avirosenthal.blogspot.com/2008/09/will-google-survive-until-2018.html
    Google should learn lessons from its unsuccessful initiative in the Chinese market in order to survive or more likely in order to preserve its market position.

  • Morally, hats off to Google. Seriously, good move on their part. I don't subscribe to the theory that this is some sort of marketing ploy.

    Realistically, I can't imagine China really cares whether Google is there or not. Baidu is clearly doing well, and the Chinese people are getting enough of what they need.

    Google will continue to crawl/index all manner of Chinese language sites, so China, its industry, its people and its media still get 'found' via search. No loss there.

    China has shown a consistent willingness to do what it wants, and it continues to see growing influence in the world. It's market opening and business orientation are keeping the economy humming, and the vast majority of the population are fine with how things are.

    Google, on the other hand, risks losing a huge market. Sure, they're #2 to Baidu now, but they're a smart bunch. Possibility is that they won't get that chance to compete.

  • The last time we had a Google vs Godzilla question it was Microsoft. But this is clearly a different beast. Microsoft is another corporation in the same industry. China is a sovereign nation. As I just tweeted, who has more at stake? If Google walks away from China, they lose that market. What happens in China? Not too much.

    It's interesting that Google says "don't be evil". Yet, to the Chinese, that is exactly what Google is by not playing by their rules. There's a certain amount of hypocrisy going on there. Don't be evil as long as it's Google's definition of evil.

    The reality is, when any country enters the global market they have to play by certain rules which can be new and disruptive to the new entrant. Some of the rules are established by organizations like the WTO. India, China, Russia all had to/have to address issues of IP protection. If they don't address the issues some industries don't play. If software piracy is rampant and uncontrolled, US software companies will not go there. As a result, many countries have had to modify trading laws, policies and commerce to enter into the world market.

    But the opposite is true too. The companies that desire to enter a new market have to learn how to work with the new market's rules to a certain extent. Why do foreign car manufacturers have plants in the US? It's good for them and it's good for us. When we barge into another country's economic system they will want similar cooperation, albeit for reasons of their own.

    This is the opening salvo. There is too much at stake for Google to stand on principle and walk away. In the game of brinksmanship though, China wins this hands down.
    They are not going to risk social unrest for Google.

  • A friend of mine in China tells me that as of now, Google.cn is still operating as usual, as in still censoring search results. She also told me that since Google is a minor player in China, and since all search engines are censored, Google's exit will not change a thing.

    I tend to agree with her assessment. I just don't see the Chinese government will budge on this issue, especially since Google allowed its protestation to manifest in such a dramatic and public manner (something about giving face is important).

    I certainly hope Google is not naively calling the Chinese bluff, because Google will lose. How do you say "don't let the door hit you in the a$$ on the way out" in Mandarin?

    Well I sympathize with Google's declared motivation behind its decision (i.e. do no evil), but hasn't Google been operating in China for four years now, while obeying the censorship laws there? Why the sudden development of conscience?

    Ah well, our 24 hour media will duly move on.

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