February 16, 2006
Written by C.N.
Is it hypocritical that American companies that supposedly champion freedom of speech and exchange of information also aid in censorship overseas? In the context of recent criticisms against American Internet powerhouses such as Microsoft, Yahoo, etc. helping the Chinese government censor information, the company that is apparently at the forefront of the censorship, somewhat surprisingly, is Google:
Several of the biggest media and technology companies have come under attack for helping the Chinese government police the Web. Yahoo provided information about its users’ e-mail accounts that helped the authorities convict dissidents in 2003 and 2005, Chinese lawyers say.
Microsoft closed a popular blog it hosted that offended Chinese censors. Cisco has sold equipment that helps Beijing restrict access to Web sites it considers subversive. But few have cooperated as openly as Google. Google’s local staff works closely with Chinese officials to ensure that search results from Google.cn do not include information, images or links to Web sites that the government does not want its people to see.
Google.com, the company’s main international search engine, is still available in China, though it often operates inefficiently because it produces links that cannot be opened inside China’s firewall. Google.cn, Google says, works faster and serves its users better — and Google places a blunt but discreet disclosure of censorship on the bottom of Web pages that include elided search results.
Even so, critics say, the service violates Google’s motto, “Don’t Be Evil.” They say the company has lent its expertise and good name to blocking information on religion, politics and history that the Communist Party feels might undermine its monopoly on power.
Echoing other Internet giants like Yahoo, Google’s defense is that censorship is the practical reality of doing business in China and that the far greater reward is helping to shape China’s emerging Internet landscape:
Google officials characterized the censorship concessions in China as an excruciating decision for a company that adopted “don’t be evil” as a motto. But management believes it’s a worthwhile sacrifice.
“We firmly believe, with our culture of innovation, Google can make meaningful and positive contributions to the already impressive pace of development in China,” said Andrew McLaughlin, Google’s senior policy counsel.
As an interesting side note, a group of former Chinese communist leaders issued an open letter criticizing the current attempts in China to censor information. Quite interesting indeed.
Nonetheless and once again, we arrive at the age-old dilemma — capitalism or conscience? Profits or professional dignity? I understand Google’s perspective and rationale for cooperating with China’s censorship demands, but nonetheless, I am very disappointed that a company like Google who prides itself on democracy, freedom of speech, and other idealistic-sounding principles caved in and placed money before its founding principles.
Alas, as Darth Vader might say, “You don’t know the power of capitalism!“
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Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Google Helps in China Censorship" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2006/02/google-helps-in-china-censorship/> ().
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