In a political climate of exceptional partisanship, conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats, have found common ground in the strangest of places – the Internet.
Last week, U.S. Internet search leader Google launched a new search service in Communist China under the domain Google.cn. With it, the same company that recently denied the U.S. government search data for the sake of protecting Americans’ rights provides a completely censored search engine per the regulations of the Chinese government.
What’s the impact of Google.cn? Well, for starters, users of this service will see filtered results for search queries like “human rights” or “Tiananmen Square”. So much for Google’s desire to defend freedom and protect rights.
To be fair, other major Internet giants like Yahoo! and Microsoft have also acquiesced to the demands of the People’s Republic of China. In Microsoft’s case, they continue to filter their Chinese MSN Spaces blogs for banned words or content.
Of course, Google and its counterparts are not staying quiet on the issue. Andrew McLaughlin, senior policy counsel for Google, recently wrote, “Filtering our search results clearly compromises our mission. Failing to offer Google search at all to a fifth of the world’s population, however, does so far more severely.”
This statement reflects a rather obvious conflict of interest. On the one hand, Google touts the need to abide by regulations in order to garner the favor of the Chinese government, potentially pushing greater transparency in the future. On the other, they are a company, driven by the bottom line and their wanting to maintain market share.
The most compelling argument against Google’s hypocritical mixed message is that they previously served the Chinese search market under the Google.com domain. They still do today. Via that domain, however, the Chinese government imposes its own censorship on search results. Consequently, the service is slow and often unresponsive, meaning that users in China seek out other more preferable search options. Thus, Google gets left in the cold or at least that was a possibility until Google.cn came along.
U.S. companies continue to covet the Chinese market and Google is no exception. Losing out on search dominance for a fifth of the world’s population would be a huge loss to them. Make no doubt about it, Google’s choice was first and foremost a business decision. Pretending that the Google.cn domain is primarily about democratization and a more open market is just a smokescreen.
Would Google be as eager to partner with other communist regimes that imposed similar censorship? Highly unlikely. Risk versus reward in Cuba or North Korea, for example, would not merit that sort of affiliation.
As it currently stands, Google now confronts an uphill PR battle. But it is one they are willing to fight due to the stakes involved. Unfortunate for them is that to this point, they have found little to no support. Those on the left and the right agree – Google opted for dollar signs with Google.cn. When politics are as partisan as they are these days, Google should see this alignment as troublesome for their future.
America faces a challenging time when our companies are willing to compromise morals for markets. It’s not too late to put a stop to such business operations before they become a trend. But do Americans have the resolve to make this known? Will we use the appropriate means to let Google and others know that operations like Google.cn are not to be tolerated? Google is betting we won’t. The answer remains to be seen.