The search engine's compliance with the security demands of a communist state is bad news for its brand and the chinese economy
A Google search I did of the word 'courage' yielded more than 49 million results. 'Conscience' returned 32 million. 'Backbone' got more than 29 million.
Too bad the company that owns the world's most-used internet search engine appears to have none of the above as it bows to China. It is releasing a version of its search tool there that excludes information censored by the government. Rather than Google.com, we should be honest and refer to it as CommunistGoogle.com.
Yes, yes, we know. Google Inc. is only honouring local laws in China. And, as internet companies claim, their mere presence in the world's most populous nation makes them an agent of change. Thus, they reason, it is better to be in China than not.
Google's motto, "Don't Be Evil," no longer applies. The new one should be "Don't Be Evil, Except in China Where There Are 111 Million Internet Users and Dollar Signs Galore."
What is so disappointing about Google's decision is what its founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, used to be all about: the free flow of knowledge and information to every corner of the globe. This is not just a matter of two techie upstarts going mainstream or selling out - it is about them wimping out to a repressive regime.
Google's capitulation is significant because of the company's fame, its reputation for not playing by the establishment's rules and a $434 share price. Recent surveys say it is now the world's most influential brand. Reporters Without Borders called Google's decision the "height of hypocrisy" in a statement.
"The internet in China is becoming more and more isolated from the outside world and freedom of expression there is shrinking," the Paris-based media rights group said. "These firms' lofty predictions about the future of a free and limitless internet conveniently hide their unacceptable moral errors."
Today's leaders, including Google, need to remember that other internet search engines are just a mouse click away. Google could suffer a backlash from the consumers it is so keen on reaching when they realise the company is helping China's censorship apparatus.
By bowing to Beijing, the biggest names in technology also may be holding back China's economic development. Will Google's move help China suppress embarrassing economic or corporate news investors need? Will it not put entrepreneurs who need unfettered access to information and ideas at a disadvantage?
A key priority for China is improving the efficiency of its economy, and that means stamping out corruption at all levels of government and business. How much pressure will there be on the Communist Party to clean itself up if most of China's 1.3 billion people do not know what it is up to?
China's dilemma is clear enough: deciding between controlling information and the need to be wired to the global marketplace to be a full party in it. So far, Beijing has chosen the former. That does not mean Google should not challenge China. It is not good enough for the mighty Google to claim it is merely joining others in accommodating China.
Corporate America, meanwhile, loves China because it can exploit workers and the environment in ways that cannot be done at home. Everyone loves a bargain, yet few of us wonder how our purchases of cheap Chinese goods lend tacit approval to labour conditions in Asia's number two economy.
Even so, its role as a banner-waver of the information economy rapidly replacing the old industrial one, makes Google's decision lamentable. If even the guys at Google will not test the boundaries of China's policies, who will?
At the very least, Google should stop calling itself an internet "search engine" in China. Its description should now be "limited search engine"' or "government-controlled search engine."
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