Google has decided to allow uncensored search results in China. But, the interesting part is why they decided to do so. When Google started their Chinese site, in 2006, they came under a lot of criticism for allowing the Chinese government to censor the search results. At the time, they decided they would rather operate in a less-than-ideal fashion than forgo the huge Chinese market altogether.I think that they were right at the time, though they have received a lot of criticism over the years from human rights groups over the years. The bottom line is that free speech squishes in between the cracks in every communist society. So, better to be part of the process than stand high on your principles, but have no skin in the game.
The online Chinese population online created an elaborate set of coded communication to continue democracy discussions without Chinese censors knowing. Similar tactics were used in Eastern European newspapers…the game of cat and mouse just got faster and more digital.
From that standpoint, Google was doing the right thing – helping Chinese people get the information they wanted. Whatever information they wanted, even if it was a bit more difficult in China than in the U.S.
So, what has changed?
Well, the Chinese government, or someone hired by them, has tried to hack into the Google accounts of Chinese dissidents. Talk about bringing the fight to Google. Basically, this is a shot across the bow to Google, who has taken great pains to gain and keep the trust of the public. In fact, that trust is the thing that keeps them in business. If users don’t trust Google to protect their private information, they opt out of the service, and Google loses the chance to monetize those eyeballs.
So, Google went on the offensive. They say they are entering into talks with the Chinese government, but the result is clear: Google.cn will be shut down.
It’s a business decision, but the long-term play. That’s why it seems counterintuitive. We’re so used to short term business decisions, when a company makes a smart business move like this, we assume it’s because of some greater principle.
In this case, it’s both. Kudos to you, Google.
(You can follow all of the real-time reactions and unfolding developments via this Twitter Search.)