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Google and China

Mixed reaction to Google’s announcement that it may pull out of the Chinese market:

These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered–combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web–have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China. We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China.

Some suggest that the motive is not ideological, but rather business-driven. Others – like Ethan Zuckerman – are more nuanced in their analysis by exploring multiple scenarios that influenced Google’s decision. And on still others suggest the move will “realign Google’s business with its ethos”. This is one of those moments where I’m less concerned about motivations and more interested in the action. Whether for good motives or ill, censorship issues in China have surfaced with at least one organization adopting a “non-compliance” approach to filtering. In the larger scheme of China, privacy, rights, and openness, it’s a small step (potential) step forward.

One Comment

  1. Chris Warren wrote:

    I agree. There’s almost always more to the story, and I don’t care much whether Google’s decision is moral, ethical, or financial in nature. Even if Google *did* decide to pull out of China out of cocnerns for its bottom line, the policy reversal can still be a step toward a more open China. And at the very least, it points to how censorship can hinder not only free communication, but also free enterprise.

    In the meantime, I think I take an approach similar to yours: with caution, and without any lofty expectations. Words like “small” and “potential” will describe this until we see the actual results.

    Thursday, January 14, 2010 at 8:15 am | Permalink