Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Oh, well

So much for the "do no evil" thing. Sorta. Wired is reporting that Google is agreeing to censor web searches in China.

I'm not sure how I feel about this. Obviously, China's policy of information suppression is bad and should be resisted. But if you were in Google's shoes, what would you do? Does it do any good to cede the field to the likes of Microsoft and Yahoo who are already in China and are wholeheartedly embracing China's information lockdown policies? Can Google do more (any?) good by staying out of China, or can it do more good by being inside, even if it means making compromises on the integrity of search engine result delivery?

I honestly don't know what I would do if I were Google. It seems to me that the surest route to change in China would be to make the convenience and power of the Internet so widespread that the culture gets addicted to information like we are in the US. It could gradually force open the pipes of information until the Chinese government finds that it would get better political results by removing censorship than by retaining it.

Of course, that only works if all the search engines are committed to change in China. It would be a tightrope walk - pushing just enough freedom through the pipes, but not so much you get booted out of the country. You would always have to keep your value to the people high enough that the Chinese government would get worse press by shutting you down. Because of this, if one search engine (ahem - Microsoft - ahem) is in China's pocket, there's always the danger they'll just boot everyone except the one that embraces the Chinese government's culture of secrecy.

And in the mean time, you'd be contributing to the Chinese government's censorship of its critics. At least here in America, we hear about it when the government goes after whistleblowers.

What would you do if you were Google? Go in or stay out?

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