Monday, March 29, 2010

Google and China

Not the usual stuff I write about, but I've been following it.  Hard to avoid when their headquarters are two miles from me.

One possible outcome of Google's rebuff to Chinese censorship is that Google would actively join efforts to defeat the Great Firewall.  It's already possible for determined Chinese citizens to beat the Firewall, but a massive and innovative corporation joining those efforts could make it a lot easier.  I suspect that this is one piece of leverage Google retains while China figures out how hard to push against the company.  OTOH, no one else is talking about it, so maybe it's not that important or likely.

James Fallows posted an interesting reader email.  The reader argues that China can't let Google dominate the search market, because China needs the information about domestic society that it can only get from closely monitoring searches.  What's interesting is that it isn't solely a "need" in the typical evil dictatorship way (although it's that too), but a need to understand its own people that it can't get because of the lack of free speech and free elections.

The mostly-negative business community commentary about Google says more about the commenters than Google.  I think they're showing a combination of ressentiment and wanna-be schadenfreude against a successful corporation that they'd like to see taken off its high horse.  Also mixed in is apprehension over anyone taking corporate social responsibility beyond the minimum common denonimator.

I have no idea how it'll play out.  From the sidelines it would be far more interesting to me to see Google really take on Chinese censorship, but I'm not the one who's already walked away from a third of the share of the Chinese search market and still wants to rescue the rest of its business.  Anyone who says Google is just leaving to say face, doesn't have much business sense in my opinion.  I think Google has shown a willingness to take a hit in order to keep some reality in its business motto.

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