Google's China specific search engine is gone, ending self-censorship
You have to admire Google for standing up for its corporate philosophy. I could not see how Google could continue to self-censor its content in China while continuing to uphold its corporate values. I also could not see how Google even agreed to enter the Chinese market in 2006 on the condition that they self-censor. Today Google will dismantle its China-specific search engine and redirect queries to its Hong Kong based site. Of course the Chinese government was outraged, as expected. I believe that for the internet as a community, something was lost today, though I am unsure what. Was it possibly a global sign that we can all get along?
So who are today’s losers?
The netizens of China will continue to have access to Google’s HK site, assuming the Great Firewall of China does not block them. Netizens will have no more or less access to worldwide internet content than before. They will have more access to Google search engine results but will be unable to access these links. The seamless façade that the Chinese Government wishes to portray to its netizens will be broken. Corporate self-censorship before government censorship is much more effective method than government censorship alone. Google sends an unstated but obvious message to netizens: As a Mainland Chinese resident you are not allowed to access all the content that is available to the rest of the world. Again this is to no one’s surprise, as this is common knowledge.
So what is the big deal? The message is subtle but worth stating. The Chinese government wishes its citizens to have a happy life and to seamlessly control the inflow of information. If you do not know something exists you will not be upset if you cannot access it. Google’s self-censorship accomplishes this. With Google China’s search engine gone netizens can find out what is available but will not be able to access it. This will breed discontent.
Going further, what you know exists but cannot access is an outright challenge to technically savvy netizens. With 1.4B population, China has a huge number of brilliant technical people. The same brains that created and maintain the Great Firewall of China can just as easily find ways to circumvent it. This electronic arms struggle continues worldwide, but China can also add government vs netizen conflict. Netizens need to tread carefully, because getting caught could result in long jail sentences.
To your average netizen Google’s exit will mean little over time. Chinese are very adept at accepting what is available and lawful and not push for what could be. On the flip side the Chinese government imposes strict laws and punishments to encourage people to follow the government’s views. Living in China is really not that bad, and you do get used to it.
Google will lose some ad revenue from Chinese companies. Future growth within the country will be curtailed. I am sure that the Chinese government will penalize Google for its loss of face. Still, ad revenue from China only accounts for 3% of Google’s revenues. Google was not doing all that well in China anyway, serving only 40% of China’s search requests. Still 40% of such a large country is tempting. There is always that Chinese carrot dangling in front of foreign companies: China is such a large country with such an enormous middle class, if only to be able to sell to them, we’d be rich.
Still, how much would it take to sell out your corporate values?
In the long term will Google China’s retraction have a negative impact on China’s electronic modernization? It is hard to say. Google is but one company and China is a great nation of 1.4B people. Maybe China does not need Google in the future. If other companies follow Google, which I do not forsee, then could there be a trend to pull out of China? Only time will tell.
It is reasonable for the Chinese government to control information both within and without the country. This has been done since Chairman Mao ruled China. China is a master of propaganda. It is reasonable for the Chinese government to mandate by law that Google self-censor its content. The law is there to protect the Chinese government, not netizens. Self-censorship followed by government censorship is highly effective and efficient. It is reasonable for the Chinese government to maintain this method of censorship. It is also reasonable that Google follow its corporate philosophy, one that is the basis for their existence. Where there is no common ground, the two will part.
Rightly or wrongly, I believe Google did the right thing to exit China. Other organizations have also chosen to stick with their principles, not have an official presence in China and are similarly legally banned. These include most of the large churches of the world. If you dislike the sound of breaking glass do not live in a glass house.
One thing is for certain: China is not like Kansas.
Google Leaves China, Chinese Netizen Reactions
Google.cn moves to HK, guess it wasn’t just about the money
Google’s withdrawal pushing itself into corner: China Daily
Google is Mourned: Many netizen comments supporting Google are deleted. Poignant