The New York Times reports today that Google is unveiling its “new face” in China, Google.cn. And its ‘new face’ looks like Google’s very old face, i.e. lacking in some of its most innovative features. There will be Google News, there will be Google search (censored), but no Blogger.com and no Gmail. You see, those latter two products are too dangerous in a Chinese context. Too many ideas circulating too freely in blogs and doubtless the same fear regarding Gmail. Officials have no doubt told Google that dumping blogs and Gmail are the cost of doing business there. And Google has caved for the bucks.
Until now, Chinese internet users have been forced to access Google through Google.com and the company’s international server network. But it had no internal server network within China to service its customers there. I’ve written here recently about China’s success at shutting down access to Google News when stories it disapproved of were reported. Google has acquiesced in such Chinese stifling of internet freedom. It’s also revealed that it censors web searches which it knows would offend Chinese authorities.
For example, I’d be willing to bet my house that you’ll find no reference in Google searches in China to two recent instances of severe civil disturbance in rural villages in which scores were killed by police and paramilitary forces when villagers protested naked land grabs by corrupt local officials. This type of unrest is what will eventually bring serious political and legal reform to China. Yet, I bet you’d never know it from Google’s offerings to its customers there.
Google’s offering of a bowdlerized version of itself to its Chinese customers is pathetic. The Times reports that the company has been disappointed at its loss of market share to Chinese competitors. So how exactly does offering a stripped down Google which sheds many of its best features supposed to win them back?
I find the internet companies’ response to complaints about their collusion with China in censoring the internet to be self-serving and simply not credible. Here’s the latest nonsense defense from Google’s spokesperson (who, by the way, it appears refused to allow the Times to identify him or her):
“In order to operate from China, we have removed some content from the search results available on Google.cn, in response to local law, regulation or policy. 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.”
I’m pleased to hear this flack admit that censorship is “inconsistent with Google’s mission.” But what does “providing no information…is more inconsistent with our mission” have to do with anything? The flack’s positing a ridiculous choice–between censored results and…what? I don’t even understand what this statement is supposed to mean.
Google and the other Chinese internet lackeys have the option of telling the government that they will only provide service in China that is comparable to the experience they provide their international users. Sure, China is going to find willing domestic internet companies which will fill in for the missing U.S. companies. But they will be providing a poor product which will not satisfy those Chinese who know there is a world outside their borders that is shut off from them. Chinese will eventually clamor for unfettered access to this knowledge and information and their government will be forced to give it to them. If Yahoo, MSN and Google did this they would be forgoing profits for a few years. But at least they would have their good name intact. As it is, these corporations have their Chinese profits and their reputation is in shambles.
“Don’t be evil” indeed. Google needs a few lessons in living up the its founders’ motto. It is certainly complicit in evil nowadays regarding its behavior in China.
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