Google testifies

The text of Google’s testimony before Congress. After my brief skim through it, here’s the money quote for me:

The strongest argument for staying out of China is simply that Google should not cross the line of self-censorship, and should not be actively complicit in imposing any limits on access to information. To be clear, the persistence of severe access problems amid fierce competition from local alternatives suggests that the consequence of this approach would be the steady shrinking of Google’s market share ever closer to zero. Without meaningful access to Google, Chinese users would rely exclusively on Internet search engines that may lack Google’s fundamental commitment to maximizing access to information – and, of course, miss out on the many features, capabilities, and tools that only Google provides.

On the other hand, we believe that even within the local legal and regulatory constraints that exist in China, a speedy, reliable service will increase overall access to information for Chinese Internet users. We noted, for example, that the vast majority of Internet searches in China are for local Chinese content, such as local news, local businesses, weather, games and entertainment, travel information, blogs, and so forth. Even for political discussions, Chinese users are much more interested in local Chinese Internet sites and sources than from abroad. Indeed, for Google web search, we estimate that fewer than 2% of all search queries in China would result in pages from which search results would be unavailable due to filtering.

Crucial to this analysis is the fact that our new website is an additional service, not a replacement for in China. The Chinese-language will remain open, unfiltered and available to all Internet users worldwide.

I don’t think Google is doing anything that’s out of the ordinary in a business sense. It wants to get a foothold in a burgeoning market. It makes good business sense. However, good business sense isn’t always good moral sense, and I thought Google would do better than this.

I think Google should be free to conduct business as it sees fit. I don’t think our government should take any active roles in stopping or discouraging this. However, users and people who are deeply concerned about this have every right to get mad and call Google what it is: just another greedy company. Which brings me to point I think I should have made a while ago. Google really is a good company, and its behavior in China isn’t as heinous as Yahoo’s (which has helped 2 Chinese bloggers get jailed). However, I think the reason this agreement to censor the internet for its Chinese users is so shocking/outraging is that Google is supposed to be that quintessential good company for us geek nerd types, and quintessentially good companies don’t censor in the way China wants them to censor.

5 thoughts on “Google testifies

  1. This is my problem with it:

    From Google’s own site: Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

    Apparently it is going against its own mission statement and throwing out that little bit about “universally accessible.” When companies start going against their OWN mission statement, that indicates a problem.

  2. [insert joke about Mac-geeks having their illusions shattered when a company they love is revealed to care about its bottom line more than (insert cause here)] Perhaps a variant of Conquest’s Second Law could be formed about this phenomenon.

  3. So, what I hear you saying is that you are upset not so much because they made a wise but morally questionable business decision, but because that decision doesn’t live up to:

    a. their self-proclaimed “non-evilness”


    b. the pedestal nerd-types have placed google upon.

  4. Methinks Google placed itself on its own pedestal. When “don’t be evil” is your MO, you’ve kinda put yourself out there 😉

    Freedom of information is coming to China at China’s own request. In order for China’s financial markets to be functional, which IT wants, it is going to have to define property rights, create a real legal system where property rights can be enforced, and make the government’s dealing with businesses transparent. It is going to have to make a GREAT deal of information transparent if it wants to attract foreign investment in the quantity it desires.

    No, this isn’t going to result in much needed civil / human rights in China overnight, but it is the reason I’m not overly wraught about Google’s moral decision. I’m more worried about what happens to the company as it has to grow up. With a PE ratio of nearly 80 times earnings…it has a lot to prove if it wants to keep its stock price afloat.

  5. I think that it will be interesting to see how things play out in terms of FDI in China. My take is China is such a huge, largely untapped market that businesses are going to make big sacrifices in terms of desired transparency and property rights, just to be able to get into the market. Google is a pretty good example of the kind of sacrifices (or ethical mis-steps) companies are going to make.

    Businesses arent going to be able to make the same kind of demands that they ordinarily would, given China’s unique economic situation.

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