A Google alert, indeed

On Wednesday, January 13, 2010, in Recent, by Todd Stein
By now, the news that Google has decided not to censor the Chinese version of its search engine in China and has threatened to pull out of the Chinese market in response to cyberattacks has made it around the world and back again. ICT welcomes the announcement as a positive development in the quest for internet freedom.  (As tangible proof, users of google.cn in China were briefly able to view the iconic picture of the Tiananmen tank man.)   The reactions from other human rights groups has been similar (see Human Rights Watch, Human Rights in China, Reporters Without Borders, and Canada Tibet Committee). We are cautiously optimistic that a rationale for Google's announcement was the realization by this big technology company that complicity with censorship regimes, especially one that is state-sponsored and as nefarious as the PRC's, is bad for business in the long run. The timing is interesting. Google CEO Eric Schmidt is scheduled to speak in front of a conclave of the U.S. House Democrats tonight. And he recently met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (read her statement) on internet freedom, which is the subject of a speech she will deliver on January 21. Let’s be hopeful that governmental pressure had an effect on this corporate decision. There is room for cynicism, of course.  The rationale given by Google – the recent discovery of cyber-attacks on their clients and other companies – is puzzling.  As every Tibet support group knows (not to mention most businesses and government agencies having anything to do with China), hacking from suspected Chinese sources is a lamentable fact of life.  So what did Google discover that’s new? Likewise, the threat to leave the Chinese market (for which its share, 31%, is relatively small but not insignificant) defies conventional business wisdom.  Here is a blog with a cynical view: Doubting the sincerity of Google's threat. For Tibetans, the criminalization of free speech is acute and real.  ICT has documented a trend of Tibetans being given harsher sentences for passing on information about protests than for participating in them. Whatever Google's motivation behind their decision, the reality is that they've set a standard (of non-censorship by Internet companies) that we hope Google will stand by, and that other technology companies will feel pressure to meet.  We hope Secretary Clinton will use the opportunity of her January 21 speech to solidify that standard, and give high priority to anti-censorship efforts as a key element of U.S. human rights AND commercial policies, and as a reflection of non-negotiable American values.
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4 Responses to “A Google alert, indeed”

  1. Keir says:

    I teach humanities in Peking to Chinese and international students who require information to contribute and make their lives and understanding of the world mean something. This news is about time.
    It is shameful that it has taken this long for Google to finally put principle before profit.
    It is shameful that Google has finally decided that it is evil to enable and facilitate corrupt, totalitarian regimes who threaten and oppress those within and bully those without.
    It is shameful that only now Google does openly admit it is evil to withhold from people information about disasters, epidemics, threats and even their own identity and past after years of doing just that.
    But above all, it is shameful that they are the only ones. When China finally becomes free of its parasitic autocracy which Obama somehow imagines to be a partner in upholding values abhorrent to it, the yahoos and hotmails will be remembered as the collaborators who betrayed their clients for their thirty pieces of silver. Possibly, when the MSNs and IBMs and IG Farbens and other cogs in the machines of repression fade from the consciousness of the world in centuries to come, the reputation of Google may live on.

  2. If Google is serious- which I strenously hope-
    there is a chance that others will follow…

    The international Community must stand by Nepal
    struggles- business seems to be the only
    middle to put pressure on the chineese to start to follow international human rights rules…
    orietta sloth

  3. NNIGroup says:

    Hope Google doesn’t bow to Chinese pressure to reach a compromise. It’s important that they either pull out or stop censoring, and set a moral example for others to follow. This can be the beginning of a global effort to challenge China’s bullyism. The world needs to realize what the helpless Tibetans are going through under China’s brutal rule. The global community must warn China in ONE VOICE – either end the illegal occupation of Tibet or face the consequences.

  4. Way to go Google! It’s clearly a huge step in the right direction, and a powerful message to other businesses and individuals. Beyond the message this sends is the profound impact it could have on the push for non-censorship because more individuals will actually have access to information.

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