No More Censorship: Google’s China Turnaround

Google has said, after an attempted and potentially government sponsored hack into dissidents’ GMail accounts, that it will no longer comply with government censorship guidelines in China. Danny Sullivan has an extensive write-up at SEL.

There’s also a Google Blog post explaining:

In mid-December, we detected a highly sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate infrastructure originating from China that resulted in the theft of intellectual property from Google. However, it soon became clear that what at first appeared to be solely a security incident–albeit a significant one–was something quite different.

First, this attack was not just on Google. As part of our investigation we have discovered that at least twenty other large companies from a wide range of businesses–including the Internet, finance, technology, media and chemical sectors–have been similarly targeted. We are currently in the process of notifying those companies, and we are also working with the relevant U.S. authorities.

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. 

Here’s the key paragraph:

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, 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, and potentially our offices in China.

Bravo Google!

This act of fortitude and integrity deserves a standing ovation. It also should be a model for other US companies doing business in China. 

Stepping back, it also changes the narrative about Google instantly.  It transforms Google from the “unstoppable, monopolistic juggernaut,” the “steamrolling giant” back into the “different kind of company” that people fell in love with years ago. 

Let me be clear: I don’t think that Google has done this for any other reasons than it’s stating. Should it “hold,” this is a move that people will cheer and celebrate for some time.


6 Responses to “No More Censorship: Google’s China Turnaround”

  1. Victor Wong Says:

    This will only help the monopolistic growth of Baidu, which we don’t wanna see.

  2. personal finance articles Says:

    China is making some hurdles for Google in it’s own way now we are just thinking that what will happen when the Google wont be bale to solve this problem !

  3. vivek Says:

    Finally google proves that ethics are way more important than minting money. This will definitly spark up the human right activist in China as well as around the world. CIIRC will now have something to think over.

    Also the fact can’t be ignored that google was unable to cope with Baidu. Its better to loose either bisiness or ethics. Google if stayed more, must have definitely lost both of it. Now atleast the ETHICS are intact.

  4. MiriamEllis Says:

    I came here specifically to see if you’d written a more personal piece on the China issue, having read your straightforward reportage at SEL. I join you in applauding Google for this stance.

    However, I am still a little confused as to the order in which this happened.

    – The email hacks happened
    – Google discovered them
    – Google (perhaps) suspects that they were government-sponsored
    – Google reacts by saying they will no longer operate a censored search engine

    The part I am not getting is the last of my 4 points. Email hacking is not censorship. Were the attacks the straw that broke Google’s back and this is Google’s retaliation? It isn’t as if Google is saying they will no longer tolerate hacking. They are saying they will pull out if they have to keep censoring. What do you make of this?

  5. Greg Sterling Says:

    I think what’s happened is that Google said: Chinese government, we’ve been cooperating with your censorship requirements and you turn around and you/your agents hack us and try to steal our IP. We’re not going to cooperate with you anymore. If that means leaving the country, so be it.

  6. MiriamEllis Says:

    Thank you for explaining how you see this, Greg. I wasn’t sure if I was connecting the dots correctly in this story, but seeing how you view this, it seems clearer to me what likely happened. Thanks!

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