Unofficially obsessed with Google.


Google Testimony on Internet in China

2/15/2006 02:44:00 PM
As just announced via the Official Google Blog, VP of Global Communications and Public Affairs at Google, Elliot Schrage, testified before the Committee on International Relations at the House of Representatives this afternoon. The speech is available in full text at the above linked blog post or in a .pdf file (that froze my Firefox browser, ahem). The major issue is the announcement of Google's new Google.cn to the also available Google.com in China.

For an outline of the testimony, read on:

Until now, Google had been providing non-specific Internet service to China, just giving them the services you can get in America from Google.com. After awhile, China started censoring queries and results, sometimes redirecting Google searches to local Chinese search engines. The censorship significantly slowed the performance of the Google site in China, with the site being far from expedient most of the time and absolutely unreachable 10% of the time.

Political, business, and ethical concerns about Google's accessibility and services in China led to two decision prongs: 1) stay out of China or 2) establish a specific, local presence in China. Google opted for the latter and has now rolled out Google.cn. This decision was guided by Google's traditional operating guidelines and the addition of a new concern:

1) Satisfy users.
2) Expand information access to all.

The added third concern for China and other difficult markets is

3) Respond to local conditions (i.e. editing Google to work with Chinese censorship)

The components of the new part 3 include disclosing points where search results have been omitted, not maintaining personal data (Gmail, Blogger included) on Chinese soil for Chinese users, but still offering Google.com to China in addition to the new Google.cn. This keeps the approach honest yet localized.

The major issues that Google grappled with in rolling out Google.cn were political, business, and ethical as mentioned above:

Political: Google faced the issue of whether or not it would intitiate self-censorship in order to do business in a country that does not hold similar political beliefs with regard to information exchange. Self-censorship is contrary to the political beliefs of the country under which Google operates and contrary to the beliefs of the spirit of the Internet. Recent difficulties with information storing and unapproved information ability in China, though, have made this political issue one that must be dealt with.

Business: Basically Google would lose tremendous market share (Schrage says to nearly zero) if it did not respond with an improved Google China service. This is becaues of the earlier mentioned slowness and redirection that was occuring with Google.com in China. The need to satisfy stockholders and to continue to operate competitively in the Asian market means Google must offer a localized Google service to the Chinese.

Ethical: Google mentions that its goal is to provide the greatest access possible to the greatest amount of information in the world. Both self-censoring and refusing to localize affect the fulfillment of that ethical idealism. Schrage states that the decision then had a very strong ethical element, but it was eventually decided that self-censorship would be most in line with the pressing need to satisfy the above business concern.

The rest of the testimony outlines the need for Internet services in China and the world in general. There are 105 million Internet users in China--half of them on broadband and hundreds of millions more using mobile phones with net capabilities. The number of Internet users is projected to jump to 250 million total users in the near future. A survey of Chinese users indicates that Internet usage will "increase political transparency." With this growing market and sub-par performance compared to local Chinese Internet services, Schrage states, "There is no question that, as a matter of business, we want to be active in China. It is a huge rapidly growing and enormously important market, and our key competitors are already there."

Schrage then outlines what it sees for the future of Google in China and Google's services to censoring nations: roll out the localized product, disclose points at which censorship has occurred, and limit the storage of personal information on users. Action by relevant governments should follow. And almost assuredly, backlash from the individual users as well as cultural change over time should have the effect of slowly changing the way in which countries view information storage. Or at least it is hoped as such.

6 Comments:

Blogger ddubb said...

You must know that the Chinese propaganda machine will exploit Google.cn as evidence that Google's values are not inconsistent with Beijing's censorship. This will give the censors legitimacy that they wouldn't otherwise get if Google decided to abstain. This is not a slight and subtle advantage for a regime that was ranked 159th out of 167 countries graded on the World Press Freedom Index, compiled by Reporters Without Borders(1).

In China, Google.com leaves it to the government censors to do the censoring. This leaves the opening in people's minds that maybe their government is more repressive than other countries. Google.cn adds little more than speed to what a state-censored Google.com or Baidu can provide. Internet users can now get their oppression served to them faster and more efficiently than with the competition. And when served by a liberalized, free, western corporation based in a democratic nation, acting in accordance with its own freely chosen policies, the nuanced agonizing that led to a tortured decision between two imperfect choices will not register with the chinese citizen end user.

And why not?

BECAUSE HE CAN'T READ GOOGLE'S STATEMENTS ON THE MATTER. For all intents and purposes this controversy doesn't exist. The only reality is that "supposedly" "freer" entities are no more idealistic than anyone else.

Google.cn adds no data that the censors won't allow. Google.cn adds much legitimacy to the CCP. That's a net loss for freedom. That's doing evil. Eliminating Google.cn will not increase restrictions on the flow of data into China. It will restrict the perception that the CCP is no less "free" than a western, free-market, non-government corporation.

Google did not chose the lesser of two evils. Google got in bed with the devil and left the bedroom door cracked open for the children to peer inside.

(1) http://www.rsf.org/rubrique.php3?id_rubrique=554
5:00 AM

 
Anonymous Googlist said...

Thank you for your comments, ddubb. Please note that the post to which they pertain is simply a summary of Google's own testimony. It is neither a statement of political persuasion on this blog's behalf nor a declaration of support for Google's decision.
1:00 PM

 
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