I don’t know if you’ve been paying attention to this, but lately there’s a battle raging between Google and the Chinese government.
It’s kind of interesting when a company is big and influential enough to wage a political war with the biggest government in the world, eh?
In January, Google announced it is no longer willing to censor searches in China and may pull out of the country.
In February, Google reacted to attempts to hack into Gmail accounts of Chinese dissidents. The implication was that the Chinese government had done this.
Just today, Google.cn started redirecting to the uncensored Google Hong Kong site (Google.com.hk). This outraged the Chinese government:
“Google has violated its written promise and is totally wrong by stopping to censor its Chinese language search results and blaming China for alleged hacker attacks, ” the Xinhua news agency quoted an official in charge of China’s Internet bureau as saying.
The Chinese official said, “We’re uncompromisingly opposed to the politicization of commercial issues, and express our discontent and indignation to Google for its unreasonable accusations and conducts.”
The Chinese internet is protected by “The Great Firewall of China” which blocks tens of thousands of websites and search results.
It started in 2005 when Google entered the Chinese market, agreeing to censor search results. When you google “Tiananmen Square” in China, you get a friendly page about the biggest public gathering place in Beijing.
In the rest of the world, you get the world famous picture of a brave estudiante squaring off with a tank in 1989.
Google’s agreement to censor results enraged flag waving Americans and free speech advocates. They said Google was “being evil.”
I have a different opinion. I’ve traveled to China 3 times. Bryan Todd (my AdWords Definitive Guide co-author) lived in China for 4 years and speaks fluent Mandarin. I saw this as China letting the camel under the tent. The toothpaste is out of the tube.
In 1835, in his amazing book Democracy in America, Alexis deTocqueville essentially said, “There’s no such thing as a little bit of free speech.”
Planet Earth is experiencing an irreversible transformation of equality and human rights. Every cell phone, every internet connection and every online business connects another human being to 2 billion other people around the world.
Whether by tanks, bulldozers, earth movers, erosion or Blackberries… sooner or later, the barrier will dissolve. It’s only a matter of time. Don’t forget how fast the Berlin Wall came down, once the process began in earnest.
Business Insider put it this way:
By simply redirecting Google.cn to Hong Kong instead of unplugging it and maintaining the rest of its operations in China, Google has:
* Maintained all of its China traffic
* Stopped censoring its search results
* Forced the Chinese Government to censor the search results (via the Great Firewall)
* Made clear to Chinese citizens and the world just what content is being censored (those searching for the Tiananmen Square uprising, for example, now get an error page instead of no search results)
* Retained the option to redirect the traffic back to China.cn if an agreement with the Chinese government can be reached.
Free speech mavens are understandably impatient to see the wall come down. However I suggest that caution is in order. We don’t need a bloody revolution.
Another thing to consider is that Google is far from the only search engine in China. Rivals like Bing and Baidu, by being more cooperative with the Chinese government, will easily fill the missing space. Moving too fast on this could simply kill Google’s Chinese business.
Bryan Todd sez:
“Bejing’s going to win this one. But not without losing a lot of face in the process. Pyrrhic victory, perhaps.
China will modernize, and will do so without revolution. That was settled once and for all in 1989.”
I think he’s right. Whatever happens, Google might make it sound like they won, but in the short term they’re going to have to do business on Beijing’s terms.
Plus, if Google can ignore the biggest government in the world, it doesn’t necessarily bode well for us advertisers. Maybe it’s not so surprising they don’t answer their customer support emails after all.
What do you think?
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