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Can Google do business ethically in China? | Inside Google
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Can Google do business ethically in China?

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Fri, Dec 17, 2010 at 11:33 am

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Can Google do business ethically in China?

The Wikileaks documents released in the past few days revive that question, first posed in 2006 when the search engine entered the world’s largest market, by revealing some of the hardball tactics that Beijing’s communists are using to bring Mountain View’s capitalists to heel.

One Google executive, worn down by three years of Chinese harrassment told a U.S. commercial diplomat that the company might consider ” leaving China,” a comment quoted in this July 2009 cable. With even co-founder Sergey Brin expressing qualms, Google’s Chinese future seems in doubt.

The cables show how Beijing relentlessly pressurizes Google to achieve its economic and political goals.

  • Use of the media: When the Chinese government charged that Google was failing to filter pornographic Web sites from its search results, there were at least 57 negative articles in the Chinese media  before Google had a chance to respond. These stories have damaged Google’s brand with Chinese consumers.
  • Manipulation of the private sector: When Google refused to remove a link to Google.com, its uncensored search engine, from its Google.cn site, which is censored, the government told three leading Chinese telecommunications firm to void existing contracts  and cease negotiations with Google. These moves have cut Google’s share of traffic in China.
  • Selective hacking.  During the Chinese Communist Party’s annual meeting in 2007, Chinese hackers diverted searches from Yahoo and Google to Baidu, the Chinese search engine. For example, search for “Dali Lama” was sent to Baidu which reported it could find “no  information on your request.” The cables showed that Google preferred to enlist U.S. government support rather than complain publicly about such incidents.

Senior Google executives have  to decide if they can live with these realities because there is little likelihood they will cease any time soon. Google has controversially acceded to the Chinese government’s demand that it censor its China-based search engine. Google did eventually drop the Google.com link on Google.cn link but installed a prominent link to another uncensored site, Google.hk.

But in larger perspective, Google’s moves amount to a strategy of appeasement that has not deterred or impressed China. The New York Times reported this week that senior Chinese officials, initially worried that the Internet could undermine their grip on power, have concluded that “the Web is fundamentally controllable.”

So the ultimate question raised by the Wikileaks cables is: Will Google participate in (or acquiesce to) Beijing’s campaign to control the Web in the world’s largest country?

Would that be good for Google’s bottom line? Probably.

Would it be good for Google’s brand and self-respect. Probably not.

(Cross posted from World Opinion Search.)

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- who has written 9 posts on Inside Google.

Jefferson Morley is a Washington journalist who writes about intelligence, international media, and American History. A former editor at the washingtonpost.com, the Washington Post, the New Republic, and the Nation, he now blogs at WorldOpinionSearch.com. He is the author of Our Man in Mexico: WInston Scott and the Hidden History of the CIA (University Press of Kansas, 2008). His FOIA lawsuit against the CIA for JFK assassination records is now in its 7th year.

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One Response to “Can Google do business ethically in China?”

  1. Victor Says:

    Google can’t even do business ethically in the United States, or any part of the world!

    A few weeks ago here in Germany we had a news program about how Google is manipulating search results to get their pages ranked at the top for physical products, so they can get a share of the profit.

    Do a Google search for just about anything, and you’ll more than likely see a few video results. Now do a few searches that return videos and you’ll see that YouTube(owned by Google) is the number 1 video site, sometimes the only video site listed.

    Google will definitely work something out with the Chinese because they want to get in there and get a piece of the action. The biggest hurdle is probably that the Chinese government wants that money instead of letting all that money go out of their country.

    Google is “big business”, just like Wal-Mart, Chase Bank and all of these other highly connected frauds who are in the government with their money manipulating laws in their favor and working to squeeze every last dollar from lower and middle class people, while giving back only the bare minimum that it must to keep it’s corrupt system attractive in the eyes of the public.

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