Monday afternoon the Internet giant Google announced that it would leave the lucrative Chinese market as censorship issues plagued the dominant search engine.
For sure this was not an easy decision for Google, but it was a result of four years of negotiation, disagreement and hostility. The fiercest of which has been a hotly debated topic since January when Google suffered coordinated cyber attacks to their network. The source of cyber attacks were revealed to be allegedly connected to the Chinese government as part of a larger Internet surveillance operation of e-mail accounts, specifically Google’s Gmail accounts.
Since arriving in China in 2006, Google has been less than willing to censor its Web search at its google.cn domain. Under this agreement searches like that of “Tiananmen Square” would be edited to show only those which represent the Chinese government’s view of history. This Monday’s decision meant that Google would no longer operate within what has been dubbed the “great firewall of China” forwarding all web traffic to its Hong Kong Web site, Google.com.hk.
On its blog, Google also announced a dashboard where Chinese residents would be able to check the services offered by Google still running in China.
At time of writing, major sites like YouTube and Blogger had been blocked with others partially blocked. What this means for China or in turn for Google could have consequences proceeding far into the future. Look around, for the average American consumer Google is everywhere.
It’s your search engine, your e-mail account, your internet content, your Web browser and your phone operating system.
Google has been for some time a leading developer of technology, inside and outside the internet. Deals struck with Chinese cell phone providers for search and operating system are jeopardized in this move. Corporate users of Google’s application suite may be blocked from using Gmail or Google Docs.
And technologies that Google may be developing to bring gigabit internet to the United States will never be developed for the growing Chinese audience. Out of 1.3 billion people, only 400 million are currently online. While at this time it may seem like an inconsequential market it is certain to explode in uptake.
It will become a market in which the world’s number one search engine will have no part. Despite loss of users, and what will undoubtedly lead to the expansion of local rival Baidu.com, Google also realizes the potential for lost revenue. The upkeep of their servers is pennies compared to the profits a continued operating inside of China.
In the face of these reasons and more, Google would appear to be making the best move from the public relations stand point. Its mantra “don’t be evil” lends itself to the situation. Colluding with the Chinese government to censor its search results was not a plan which could uphold that statement.
Under their new decision, they can provide unfiltered full content to the Chinese people through their Hong Kong servers and leave the censorship to the Chinese government.
It could be argued that they are walking away from democracy and free speech, but it would seem the only way to provide real free speech is in the decision they’ve made and it’s the bed they will lay in until any major changes are made to the way the Chinese view the Internet. Google can only hope at that point it’s not too late to get back in the game.