Google’s Cowardice [UPDATED, with response to reader comments]

[UPDATED - I've added a response to reader comments to the end of the this post. Scroll down to find it.]

Eighteen months ago I received an email from an acquaintance who happens to work with a large NGO in China. It included an attachment, and since I was familiar with the person who sent it to me, I elected to open it. Within seconds of doing so, my security software notified me that it was malware and quarantined it. At that point, I took a closer look at the email message and noticed several details that should’ve indicated to me that this wasn’t a message from my friend, but rather was a very sophisticated phishing attempt. In any case, I contacted this acquaintance immediately and told him what had happened. He responded with thanks and told me that he’d received similar messages from dozens of other people in his address book, and that he – and his NGO – were going on the assumption that they’d been hacked.

For obvious reasons, I’m not going to identify this person or his organization. And, in fairness, I really can’t say for certain whether or not the origins of the attack on my friend’s address book (and me) originated in China, or had anything to do with China at all (an investigation of some kind was undertaken, but I have no knowledge of the conclusions). But this I do know: the person in question, and his NGO had operated for years in China prior to being hacked, been subject to all kinds of pressures prior to being hacked, and yet nothing about the email hack made them question a commitment to working in China for many years more.

Yesterday, after Google announced that it was reviewing “the feasibility of our business operations in China” in light of hacker attacks on gmail, I kept thinking of this person, and his NGO, and his absolute determination to make it work in China regardless of the hurdles. I also found myself fixated upon this passage from Google’s announcement:

Second, we have evidence to suggest that a primary goal of the attackers was accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. Based on our investigation to date we believe their attack did not achieve that objective. Only two Gmail accounts appear to have been accessed, and that activity was limited to account information (such as the date the account was created) and subject line, rather than the content of emails themselves.

Third, as part of this investigation but independent of the attack on Google, we have discovered that the accounts of dozens of U.S.-, China- and Europe-based Gmail users who are advocates of human rights in China appear to have been routinely accessed by third parties. These accounts have not been accessed through any security breach at Google, but most likely via phishing scams or malware placed on the users’ computers.

In the first paragraph, Google doesn’t identify the location of the human rights activists in question. However, in the second it clearly states that some of those who were attacked via phishing scams are China-based gmail users. And so it raises a question for me: are any of those activists taking the same course of action as google? That is to say, has the gmail breach forced human rights activists in China to review the “feasibility of their operations?”

I don’t have any knowledge as to whose gmail accounts were breached, but I think it’s pretty safe to assume that the answer – at least among the human right crowd – is going to be a uniform ‘no.’ That is, they will continue to work in China, regardless of email breaches and government barriers. Why? Every NGO, and every activist, has a different different set of reasons, but I’m fairly certain that breached email accounts are among the lesser, and least surprising difficulties, that they encounter in the course of doing work to which they’re deeply committed. They believe that if you want to be a part of China’s future, then you’d better be a part of China now.

If you were to go by the language in Google’s statement from Wednesday, and some of the post-statement media reactions (“China Enters its Bush-Cheney era” or – gasp! – “China hackers hit media activists and companies online“), one might be under the impression that China has just shifted from its Age of Enlightenment, to a Reign of Terror. To be sure, Internet controls have tightened in the last year, but I find it very difficult to accept the suggestion that China has suddenly become a more repressive place. It is what it is, and has been for several years, and NGOs, at least, will continue to manage the difficulties.

Google has apparently chosen not to manage them, and in doing so has become a sort of hero in the eyes of some who seem to think that walking away (or threatening to walk away) from China is an effective means of influencing it. Perhaps so. But I can point dozens of NGOs, activists, and companies who’ve experienced harassment and much worse, and for much longer than Google, and who’ve chosen to stay because they want to be a part of the dialogue about China’s future, and are already making a contribution to it. Google’s threat to take its servers and go home suggests that – after a mere four years – it doesn’t share their commitment. That’s their choice, that’s who they are, but let’s be clear about one thing: there’s not a damn thing heroic about it.

[1/15/09 - A Response to Reader Comments

This post has generated an unexpectedly large number of comments, with a significant percentage of them disagreeing with my premise. Of those, many take issue with the post by pointing out that I’ve compared apples to oranges, ie Google is a corporation, not an NGO. For example:

“Google is an internet company. Its mission is not to improve aspects of life in China but to offer information to people. If it cannot do that on anything like its own terms in a particular place then it is under no moral obligation, as far as I can see, to continue.”

“First, Google is not an NGO but rather a company with responsibility to its shareholders and stakeholders to operate as a profitable enterprise and create long term economic value. Google cannot and should not stay in China just to put up a fight with the government.”

“Likewise with NGOs – their mission is to serve in China. On the other hand, the mission of a corporation like Google is to make money and deliver maximum profits to shareholders. Making money in a way that imperils the work of human rights activists is frankly unethical and I couldn’t be happier that Google has made the decision it has.”

This is a reasonable and self-evident position to take, and I’d be sympathetic to it but for the fact that it isn’t the way that Google views itself. From the beginning of its China operations, Google has made a set of very NGO-like justifications for its decision to play by China’s rules, all of which come down to this idea: Chinese internet users are better off with a neutered Google, than no Google at all. As a corollary and justification for that, Google has – up until this week - cited the immense transformative effects that the internet has and will continue to have on China. For better or worse, Google has justified its presence in China by claiming – perhaps disingenuously – that it’s not just about the money. From my reading, this very NGO-like approach to China was best framed in the testimony that Elliot Schrage, then Google’s Vice-President for Communications and Global Affairs, gave to a committee of the US congress on February 15, 2006. It’s worth reading in full, especially for a very detailed picture of how Google views itself in relation to China. But this passage, I think, gets at the crux of how Google was presenting itself in 2006, as it prepared to enter the China market:

Let me dig a bit deeper into the analytic framework we developed for China. Google’s objective is to make the world’s information accessible to everyone, everywhere, all the time. It is a mission that expresses two fundamental commitments:

(a) First, our business commitment to satisfy the interests of users, and by doing so to build a leading company in a highly competitive industry; and

(b) Second, our policy conviction that expanding access to information to anyone who wants it will make our world a better, more informed, and freer place.

Schrage adds a third commitment – “be responsive to local conditions” – and then spends the rest of his testimony advocating for how Google.cn fulfills all three of these quite laudable principles, with a particular emphasis on the second. Now, some of my readers might take a look at the second of Google’s commitments – the self-described policy conviction – and brush it off as nothing more than PR to justify the untrammeled pursuit of the first.

But I think it deserves to be taken seriously, along with the company’s oft-repeated “do no evil” mantra, as a guidepost for explaining the company’s actions. And if it’s taken at face-value – and, let’s recall, it was spoken under oath to a committee of the US Congress – then we have to understand that Google views itself as something more than just a profit-making engine, but rather as a force for a “policy conviction” unbuckled from any profit motive. And that conviction, as expressed by Google’s congressional testimony, is that “expanding access to information to anyone who wants it will make our world a better, more informed, and freer place.”

If that weren’t one of Google’s three convictions, I’d suggest that somebody adopt it as the mission statement for an NGO focused on expanding access to information worldwide.

Policy convictions belong to NGOs and activists, not to corporations. Yes, many American corporations have them, but rather than spend shareholder dollars directly on accomplishing them, they fund think tanks, study groups, and lobbying organizations. Google is different – by its own account. It arrived in China to make money, but it also arrived to expand access to information regardless of the profit motive.

The Chinese government doesn’t share Google’s policy conviction. In fact, it is so far opposed to it that – for decades! – it has actively tried to disrupt the free flow of information, sometimes overtly, and sometimes via means – such as espionage – that are not so obvious. Any NGO or seasoned corporation that operates in China knows this from the moment they arrive. Google, too, having been advised by experienced China hands, knew it, too. But, unlike other organizations that arrive in China with policy convictions that they’d like carry out, Google has decided after a relatively short while that they were wrong to come at all, that the regulatory situation is just too tough.

Fair enough. That’s their call. But again, I see nothing heroic in pulling back from a project – bringing Google to China – that was, in fact, playing a postivie role in expanding access to information in China. No doubt, internet restrictions have tightened over the last year. But any China-based NGO with more than three years experience will tell you the same thing: the pursuit of policy convictions in China has peaks and valleys. Don’t get too excited at the peaks and don’t get too distraught at the valleys. It’s the long-term trends that are in your favor and – until this week – I thought they were in Google’s favor, too.]

40 thoughts on “Google’s Cowardice [UPDATED, with response to reader comments]

  1. Disagreed. Different organizational structures have different ways to get their power across. A publicly-listed multinational corporation obviously does not operate the same way as a local NGO. I think you’re really comparing apples and oranges here.

  2. it is sad. since when has standing by morals and virtues means suffering consequences? our US companies are so dependent with potential china market that we have to compromise our security and personal safety to stay in business. ridiculous. and by forcing us companies to adopt chinese way of restrictions of speech and censorship just so america can stay in business in china is manipulative and wrong. i bet this article was written by the chinese government themselves to twist the story around. after all the news about chinese censorship and the way they have treated their people, how can we trust them? come on china wake up! the chinese people are humans too and one day they will demand their freedom, and they will not be manipulated anymore!

  3. Y – I’d agree if Google hadn’t entered the Chinese market by claiming that it could do more good here, than bad. Google’s PR, at least, framed the move as one designed to help expand the options of Chinese internet users. That is to say, its initial claims about China sounded more like an NGOs than a corporation’s.

  4. Interesting perspective, but I agree with Y. Google is an internet company. Its mission is not to improve aspects of life in China but to offer information to people. If it cannot do that on anything like its own terms in a particular place then it is under no moral obligation, as far as I can see, to continue. I think Google’s size and cachet also counts for something. By announcing unilaterally that it is ready to drop China, it has done something realy unique in recent PR terms. It will be very interesting to see how China reacts – it is used to companies bending over backwards to operate in China and rarely finds itself in this kind of position. I think this is a spat China neither expected nor wanted and this is not something NGOs, easily dismissed as the tools of malign foreign interests, could achieve.

  5. > Google’s PR, at least, framed the move as one designed to help
    > expand the options of Chinese internet users

    And when the framing is found to be wrong, they pull out. Isn’t that logical? Chinese users can still use Gmail, Google Docs, etc. Only now they won’t have to worry about the Chinese government building backdoors into those services through their moles, thinking that they’re getting a full picture of the world through Google.cn.

  6. Engagement is almost always better. But I’m still shocked at the simplistic approach of some overseas observers, especially those still harping at the inability of Chinese to Google certain terms. Any dissenter or critical Chinese journalist I know either uses VPN or has multiple secure email addresses. Most that get (wrongly) arrested are usually quite public, quite crusading, as opposed to slipping up — or being tossed in jail by Yahoo.

  7. Your post would make some sense if google were planning to take the servers used for gmail out of China and leave those poor Chinese human rights activists high and dry, without access to gmail. But that’s simply not what’s happened, it can’t be.

    Due to concerns that, were private user information stored on servers inside China, they’d have to turn over private user information to the Chinese government (as both Microsoft and Yahoo have had to do in the past), Google has never hosted or offered gmail inside China. The Chinese activists about whom you write were undoubtedly using gmail addresses stored on servers inside the US, probably accessed through proxies or VPN (as gmail has been on occasion blocked inside China), and someone has tried to hack into their accounts. From the sound of things Google suspects agents of the Chinese government were behind these attempts.

    Google is not giving up on allowing Chinese people to use gmail accounts. The only thing Google has done at this point is tell the Chinese government that they’ll no longer censor their search results. One could argue that Google should have taken this stand 4 years ago, but I think it’s plausible that they thought (as did many) that China was opening up and would be relaxing its control of communications on the internet. It seems that was a mistaken assumption. Google now stands to lose about a 30% share of a large market.

  8. You are right. Chinese netizen agree for this ‘They believe that if you want to be a part of China’s future, then you’d better be a part of China now.’

  9. ADAM Please
    You talk about trying to become part of China. You know that never going to happen. All Chinese believe that you will be the white devil. They will NEVER trust you and let you make a contribution to China. Where have you been? Did you put your head in the sand? China is only for the Chinese. CHINESE ONLY. All others are foreigners. You dont belong in China. You will stay for a while then you will go home and tell funny stories to all your friends about China. Remember you will go home not now but some time. This is because this is not your home. You dont belong here in China.
    You might have have some mental problem becuase all the Chinese now look at you and you feel a little bit more special. When your home you dont get that do you? You come to china and believe that your at the top of the food chain. That distorts your view on the truth. That is you never belong here.
    People say that China offers many oppportunities becasue of the large population. I guess thats how China gets foreigners to come in. China only wants them to come to China so it can steal foreign firms ideas. I have spent enough time in China to see how this works. Companies marvel at the money to be made from the biggest economy in the world. How ever this is for CHINESE ONLY. No foreigner is allowed to succeed in China. You will not make a grand contribution. China is suspicious of everyone.
    The world has made a clear mistake bowing down to China to enter its market. If you have lived in China long enough you know that you cant succeed. The world should be warning China to play fair. Chinese people are allowed to come to other countries and open firms but can a foreigner do that in China? Yes you can open a firm but how successful will you ever be? China is a predator not a free market economy. It has done something that North Korea couldnt do – that is rebadge itself as a land of opportunity. However this is far from the truth – the sad fact is that china will never play fair and people like you Adam lead people up the garden path into believing that China is a edan – its still a horror story.

  10. “And when the framing is found to be wrong, they pull out. Isn’t that logical?”

    - Exactly.

  11. People are so forgetful. Google not advocate for Net freedom but on the other way round Net freedom enables them to prosper. If there is other way than Net freedom can power its growth, will they do it? History tells us it did and very likely it will. We do not take the face value when the China gov says it is for the people, likewise I put the same amount of doubt when Google says it is for the people.

  12. Adam.

    There is a big difference between between setting up an NGO and being the subject of “intrusions” and setting up a for profit organization that becomes the tool for those “intrusions”.

  13. You’re dead wrong! If Google stayed it would compromise the integrity of the company and it wouldn’t, even one single iota, have any effect on the lack of integrity of the Chinese government or the Chinese Communist Party. Google is doing and can do a lot of good in the world. China simply isn’t one of the places where it can do it in a way that will enable what is best about the company to survive. Contrary to what you think, there’s not a damn thing heroic about hanging your tail between your legs and putting up with tyranny, as the population of Iran is teaching us these days. There’s a time to stand up against gross injustice. Google wisely chose the right time and is wisely doing the right thing.

  14. I would like to make a technical point, related to the recent account hack of GMail, and last year’s burst of targeted phishing emails.

    GMail allows access via email client, like Thunderbird, using IMAP and POP to receive mail, and SMTP to send it. Technical details are not as important as what they can do.

    Email clients like Thunderbird (the mail client made by the people that make Firefox) allow a plugin called PGP. What this does is either sign or encrypt emails. Now, unless you’re sure the other party can receive encrypted emails encryption isn’t that useful, but signing emails is.

    By creating a key on your personal machine, all emails you send have a key attached, this key changes itself depending on the email body, but can always be verified against an email sender.

    What this means is when a receipient gets an email from me with the correct digital signature they can be confident the mail was sent by me. As my key lives only on my personal machine, I can be confident that only someone with direct access to my machine (and not just anyone with access to my GMail, should they learn my password) has sent the mail. i.e. an email with an incorrect key, or lacking a key, was either a spoofed email (targeted or not) or sent by someone with access to GMail, but not my local machine.

    Doing this increases verifiability of sent emails. For anyone working in a field where there might be the remote chance of being impersonated or phished, employing PGP to sign emails, and limiting that signing to a single machine, should be a serious consideration.

    It doesn’t eliminate the chance of coming under such an attack, but it does reduce it.

  15. @Micah – “Chinese users can still use Gmail, Google Docs, etc.”

    Not sure. The way G is managing this it can very well happen that China GFWs the whole of the G services, including G.com. In fact they already do it for Gdocs and Gblogspot, it would be extremely easy to extend the block… and anyone who has been blocked knows that GFW is death for you in China, NOBODY uses the proxies on a regular basis because the Chinese internet is already slow enough as it is.

    So this move risks to erase Google altogether from the face of China. I don’t get it. G can stop censoring results in China, sure, no problem with that. But to come up with a direct public accusation against the government is completely and deliberately burning the ships.

    And I think it is not good for China.

  16. This seems quite simple to me. Google made a bet that china’s government would loosen regulations and the bet didn’t pay off. The only thing remarkable about this story to me is how publicly they questioned their own assumptions and admitted the mistake.

    Think about it, if google were to keep playing along with the gov’t an pretending nothing was wrong, what is the best outcome they could hope to achieve? Perhaps they could build a better Baidu. Even that would be difficult, as the government might well tilt the playing field in favor of the home team, a they have in the past. Even in a completely fair and transparent environment, I’m not sure that is really the game google wants to play long term. The choice they faced was between maintaining a relatively miniscule portion of their business, possibly at the expense of significant management brain damage, or pulling up stakes and refocusing resources on othe high growth areas of their business, most likely in an environment that they better understand.

    In light of the above, highlighting the issue and making a last ditch (if futile) attempt to negotiate a better arrangement with th government seems like a highly reasonable, if difficult, course of action.

    One problem with the China expat analysts, is that they are too close to the situation to really see it clearly. Is it an important economy? Sure. Certain businesses and industries will have to be there, no doubt about it. But China is not a do or die proposition for every company, and it may never be. For companies in that category, which probably includes Google, the challenges of the market may be too great to make it truly worthwhile. I wouldn’t be surprised if google’s eventual exit prompts other company boards to question what their China operations are really all about? Is it about neccesity? Future profits that may or may not materialize? Or does the CEO just like being able to say “we’re in China” and put another flag on the map?

  17. Excellent post. Having worked for various companies in China, I can contribute to the following being true:
    Yes, we know our communications are being monitored.
    Yes, we know that any Chinese translator will likely, and rightly so, provide a transcript of anything we say upon request by the PSB.
    Yes, we know that there is a remote, but distinct possibility that our blueprints will be copied while we are at lunch.
    Yes, we know that the Chinese “Institute” engineers who are in our meetings are actually copying our IP, and more importantly trying to learn how we developed that IP.

    We know all these things, but we soldier on in the name of commerce.

    But, if I catch someone red-handed performing one of these acts, and I do not act, then I have failed to understand China.

    Google did catch, and has evidence, and they will use that towards some end.

    Let’s hope that the ends justify the means, and they are not evil.

  18. “I really can’t say for certain whether or not the origins of the attack on my friend’s address book (and me) originated in China, or had anything to do with China at all (an investigation of some kind was undertaken, but I have no knowledge of the conclusions).”

    You may want to check out the report on the GhostNet servers. The timeframe of the attack on your computer appears to coincide with that incident. Moreover, the description of how you were attacked matches the description on the report “Tracking GhostNet: Investigating a Cyber Espionage Network.” I suggest you google it yourself or copy and paste the links here.

    http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/techreports/UCAM-CL-TR-746.html
    http://www.scribd.com/doc/13731776/Tracking-GhostNet-Investigating-a-Cyber-Espionage-Network

  19. Forgot to say: Enemy of your enemy does not mean it is your friend, least to say your hero. It is a heroic act only in the eye of the beholder.

  20. Reminds me of Spielberg of bailing on the Olympics opening ceremonies and all of the damage that he did to that enterprise (as in none). Agree with the Admiral’s comment above. Everyone who does business or media in China assumes communication is being intercepted. Google is naive or disengenuous to express shock at this. Much respect lost.

  21. All the comments here are English speaking foreigners who don’t live in China or use VPN and don’t have to worry when google gets the block. So easy to be big talk when it won’t hurt you. Maybe you can think about the Chinese internet user instead okay? What will they use if google gets the block?

  22. Most of the chinese net users are young and very nationalistic. They are raised and prospered under the communisted party. When a foreign entity takes a hard hand against the country, no matter the cause; they usually would take offence.

    Besides every net user in China uses Baidu any way. I live in the states, but when I need to find any thing chinese, I would use Baidu instead of Google.

  23. Hi Adam
    I’m afraid I disagree with you – I think it is heroic and I think it’s the right thing.
    I also think that many companies will follow Google’s lead; why should a company have to share all it’s IP with the Chinese government hackers and anybody else they choose to give it to?
    Yes, China has a great sway over the US government because the US is in debt to it but that’s no reason why every US company should kowtow to China’s government.

  24. I don’t think that Google’s decision is cowardly or heroic – I think it’s a strategically opportunistic business move. They set up shop nearly four years ago thinking they would grab 2/3 of 338 million internet users. When that plan failed to come to fruition because of their hesitance to kowtow to every censorship demand (though they did end up doing so in the end) and Baidu’s relationship with China operated much more smoothly, they went public with a severe security breach and used it for the basis of their decision to leave. On the scale of cowardice to heroicism, this ranks somewhere around cop-out.

  25. I’m not usually one to advocate “Eye for an eye” politics here, but excuse me. The Party has stifled their people for too long. Now they’re trying to censor the rest of the world too. I laud Google for their decision, but it’s not enough to combat this VERY SERIOUS THREAT TO THE INTERNET WORLD-WIDE. It is in the best interest of Google’s stockholders to fight back and floodping, phish and worm the Chinese military back to the stone age. Google must do this or face annihilation in the face of companies who ARE willing to violate their customers’ rights for a competitive edge. I also believe it is a moral obligation of every ISP to do the same.

    The Communist Party has rejected ALL Marxist ideals and communal practices in favor of Capitalism. They are in a situation where they provide the Chinese people with NOTHING but lies, threats, and bondage to large corporations. No public food, no public medicine. You have to bribe the fireman to show up at your burning apartment. You have to bribe the cops to protect you from muggers (they’re too busy beating the s*it out of same-sex couples and mentally handicapped folks). The city infrastructures are a total mess. The only “order” imposed by the Chinese government is on the sensory input of their citizens. If we can can break our Chinese brothers and sisters free from that propaganda machine, then the Party will have nothing (yi wu suo you) except a bunch of unpaid teenagers with guns who don’t know what to believe.

    The time for action is NOW. The “Chinese” (particularly ethnic minorities, but even many Han) are sick and tired of being treated this way. They are tired of being held back in the conceptual kindergarten of “guided opinion”.

    Google, you made the right choice! Now back it up. It’s not evil to show some teeth!

  26. Adam — I appreciate your posting such a counterpoint to the usual applause echoed around the US for what Google is trying to do. However, consider two things.

    First, Google is not an NGO but rather a company with responsibility to its shareholders and stakeholders to operate as a profitable enterprise and create long term economic value. Google cannot and should not stay in China just to put up a fight with the government. Google has no tanks, no guns, and no control over China’s court system — this fight may not be winnable for them in any real way. If I were a shareholder, I would not want to own a company who recklessly goes on moral crusades around the world. Leave the crusades to the crusaders (like your NGO friends) and focus on what you do best — technological and consumer innovation.

    Second, if the definition is “heroism” is the willingness to do something you believe in even if it may involve sacrifice, then Google is absolutely heroic in its decision to leave China — it takes tremendous guts to leave the world’s fastest growing internet market. Now, one might argue that it may be doing some disservice to its investors by taking such an action (abandoning the China pie so to speak), but I think over the long run it may strengthen Google’s brand and the cultural values within the company.

    One last thought: the NGO who stays in China despite internet attacks is *continuing* rather than abandoning its mission. Google’s exit from China can be seen too as a way to *continue* its mission to promote access to information in a socially responsible and economically viable way. In fact, if Google were to stay in China, that could be viewed more as an abandonment of its core mission.

  27. Comments that invoke the blocking of Google are shortsighted. The Chinese government can block any site they want for pretty much any reason they want: whether that’s Google.com, Google.cn, or even Baidu (going from best to worst). The crime against Chinese internet users isn’t that Google MIGHT make itself inaccessible to them by pulling out; it’s that the government censors the internet RIGHT NOW. The PRC government (and by extension the CCP) is the criminal here, not Google.

  28. I generally like your blog but strongly disagree with your post. Of course Chinese human rights activists don’t quit because their accounts are hacked – their purpose is to fight for human rights (although I would point out that a number of prominent human rights activists have had to go into exile – self imposed or otherwise – due to the threat of death or serious bodily harm, which is a completely legitimate reason to walk away). Likewise with NGOs – their mission is to serve in China. On the other hand, the mission of a corporation like Google is to make money and deliver maximum profits to shareholders. Making money in a way that imperils the work of human rights activists is frankly unethical and I couldn’t be happier that Google has made the decision it has. It should be applauded for its behavior – far too few corporations choose to sacrifice profits for social responsibility. I think the question you need to ask yourself is what is the upside could Google possibly provide for human rights and internet freedom even if it did stay in China?

  29. The message Google is sending to the world and to China is that moral individuals and businesses do not need to kow tow to an abusive totalitarian government.

    The premise of this article is that not kow towing is “cowardly.” That particular moral inversion I find somewhat disturbing.

    Google can’t play a role in getting people out of black prisons, but it can focus a level of international attention far larger than ANY NGO on the problems of doing business “according to the law” of a country that denies basic human rights even exist, and to that fact that those rights are denied. If pulling out has that effect, then wonderful.

    Being involved, if there’s any chance of that effectuating positive change, is wonderful, but that’s not the ONLY way to accomplish such goal. Boycotts have often proven equally, if not more, effective.

  30. Adam I think the one thing that you and others aren’t saying is that the Chinese government doesn’t care either way whether or not google stays. Foreigners over estimate just how much the Chinese leadership cares about this. If google wants to go, then they can go. Does anyone really think the Politburo gives a damn? That’s why it is a mistake. At least if they stay Google can be part of the dialogue. If they go, the only people who benefit are the foreigners who can feel all good and moral about themselves.

  31. Ha. This is great. I thought I was the only one that thought Google was acting childish.

  32. Much though I respect your opinions, Adam, I believe the focus of ire should be on the Chinese government and not Google, which is responding as any organism would respond when its bodily integrity was violated. “Ouch!” and “Goodbye!”

    It’s ironic that the very same Patriotic Hackers of the Great Chinese Nation are often the same people who man the batteries of computers firing billions of spam emails and phishing tricks into the Internet milieu. What a politically aware and sensitive group they are.

    Having said that, I do acknowledge that our nation (the USA) set the standards for intrusive online behavior and for spamming. Our NSA is probably monitoring my very act of posting this message. (Of course, most surveilled Americans are not made to stand trial or imprisoned, but they can be brought up on various charges or their lives made miserable by Homeland Security. And if they can find a way, spammers wherever they reside try to exploit my every online act.

    Superpowerhood is inherently offensive to human-scaled governance and comity It’s not surprising that the three worst governments in terms of privacy invasion are those of the three largest nations: the USA, China, and Russia. And that that is where the global spammers reside. A pox on all self-righteous but ultimately falsely patriotic initiatives to screw with people.

  33. Since google made its announcement, it seems that Google is getting the bad rap. Most of you know that KaiFu Lee left Google last September. In semptember, although google have 30 something percent marketshare, more people are going google.com rather than google.cn within China. Today there’s was a news report that some google employees in China started looking for jobs last November because they heard that google has decided to withdraw part of its search business. Last December, Forbes magazine Rebecca Fannin is making speculations that Google is leaving China. This is all before Google decided to go kicking and screaming out from China. Another thing, they are NOT leaving China as they will continue to have gmail and android os that will won’t leave China. Furthermore, even if they will only leave China, they are withdrawing google.cn domain but google.com can still be accessed there. This stunt is totally stupid of google as I am sure that many Chinese people will rename “Don’t be Evil” lingo to “Don’t be Google.”

  34. Google went from pretending to be a purveyor of free speech to pretending to be fed up with not being allowed to speak freely. On that, I can somewhat agree, at least with what we all know now. However, among those who are critizing Google, I have to wonder if (underlying some of the criticism) there is sense of enabling a government that is so repressive?

    Yes, I know. Our governments back home are repressive. I wouldn’t suggest anything China has done in the past few decades approaches what the U.S. has done in Iraq alone… I’ll leave our previous “business” in places like Chile, Vietnam, Central America, and most of Africa out of the mix.
    Still though, one has to call someplace home, no getting around that. I feel crappy and colonialist about the US actions in Iraq, but it’s my country, I have to be here. Literally. Perhaps Brin (and others) felt that they absolutely didn’t have to be in China any longer.

    What I am getting at is, perhaps it wasn’t simply the email breach. It’s only been a few more days and hopefully more will come out. Perhaps Google feared that they would become like Yahoo, and arrests would follow, or physical harrassment or violence. If you’ve hacked into someone’s account you can pretty well use info to find them and detain them. This goes well beyond “the flow of information”, which is all just a bunch of hotair.

    Sergei Brin said that being from Russia, he felt queasy being part of a state-controlled censorship aparatus. To me, this suggests his POV is quite different from ours.

    It’s funny to hear all the expats and the middle-class Chinese arguing – in English – about ramifications of Google’s leaving China. China and the China related “satellite societies” has developed a distinct “cheese and wine” crowd who have grown so accustomed to lawyers, petitioners, and the very disposable poor going missing and being violated in the worst ways that we rarely comment on it anymore, except to patiently explain to everyone back home that it’s not really that bad, you can actually get organic produce in China and people are polite when you go to the police station to register your new, IKEA filled flat in Pudong. I wonder if the 老百姓 even give a flying fluck about Google… it’s like arguing about there only being plastic cutlery during a famine. I mean, Google isn’t really very likely to “we threw up a little bit in our mouth at all this shit that’s going on around us”, are they?

    Maybe Google just rethought that old expat axiom about the best change being that from the inside, and that all China needs is a few, good right-thinking expats around and they’ll straighten up and fly right… so they decided to take their football and go home. Who knows?

    The arguments about “freedom” and “information” have become silly. Are the people in China who most need “freedom” and “information” also the people least likely to care if Google leaves?

    I heard that someone hacked into Brin’s email account (supposedly he uses AOL) and found this message he’d sent to Hu Jintao:

    Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.

    ___________

    Just the musings of another member of the Chinaverse oligarchy…

  35. As pug_ster said, it doesn’t seem like Google can or is completely withdrawing from China–as near as I can figure, they are just talking about the google.cn domain. So basically the ‘threat’ is to stop developing mainland-specific search/services… ?

    Whatever is going on, it seems Google is being clumsy about how they are handling this. Perhaps the problem is that the Chinese gov’t and authorities aren’t helping Google figure out who or what is attacking them?? It would be nice if Google could be more specific. Regardless, I’m among those who don’t think that this is going to be particularly effective, especially if Google doesn’t make a stronger case….

  36. Haha, you are some wacko logic going on.

    Tell me what’s cowardice:

    Censuring your own self for profit, year after year, just like ALL OTHER FOREIGN COMPANIES IN CHINA, despite the constant fear and neck breathing?

    OR

    Publicizing your angst, KNOWING you threaten your $$$, KNOWING others may not follow your lead, and possibly the huge political fallout to which others may lay the finger on you?

    And keep in mind, all the DONT DO EVIL stuff is just PR. Maybe it was true in the beginnings of GOogle, but google is now a grown up, meaning their fancy motto is just PR.

    In conclusion, adam: dont be such a hippy. And look up the definition of COWARDICE, cause you clearly dont know.

  37. The problem with google search engine with its page rankings technology is that it can be exploited. To give you an example, type in the search term ‘chinese people’ in google and it will give you some interesting ‘suggestions.’ Go to bing.com and do the same thing and those ‘suggestions’ are not there. Baidu will certainly be more than happy to ‘censor’ out those interesting suggestions and that’s why Baidu has the marketshare and google doesn’t. Personally, I’ll be happy that google will be censored in China because we don’t have to look at google’s internet search smut.

  38. Adam,

    I too don’t agree with you. What Google has done is both admirable, reasonable, and significant. The CCP had slipped spies into the workforce at Google China and stolen code – a real threat not only to dissidents but to Googles worldwide business. That is a very good reason to get out of China. Read up on Sergey Brin and his background and role in the decision to give the damn CCP an ultimatum.

  39. Gotta disagree w/ you a bit on this one Adam. Though I do think you are right that google and the media are tooting the horn too hard w/ “Heroic”. Let’s face it, google’s not losing a ton of market cause Baidu kicks their butt. Still, i think this stand has potential and resonance. When the US gov’t makes a stink the Chinese public usually ignores it (rightly most often) as the pot calling the kettle. Perhaps they weigh a corporation’s criticism more Carrefourly…(oops…did i undermine my own argument?)

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