As many expected, Google has launched a Chinese version of its search engine (NYT link) in an attempt to grow in that massive market, and to compete with local search providers such as Baidu.com, and it has agreed to filter its results to comply with government restrictions — or what several wags have referred to as the “great firewall of China.” The service will also not have Google e-mail or blogs.
This isn’t terribly surprising, given some of the activity by Google and other tech giants when it comes to China — such as the shutting down of a noted dissident’s blog by Microsoft’s MSN, and the identification of another dissident (who was later arrested) by Yahoo. And Google has been accused of at least helping to filter results before, including in this Harvard study.
It’s obvious that companies such as Google see such activity as part of the cost of doing business in a country like China, and no doubt they would make the argument that if they didn’t comply then someone else would. It’s still a sad development, however, and it certainly throws into sharp relief how the search company’s “don’t be evil” mantra can be modified when necessary to fit the needs of the business.
John Battelle says Sergey Brin told him on balance Google figures it’s better to be in China than not. I’m not sure I agree. Danny Sullivan says it’s more complicated than that, and Philipp Lenssen says Google should come clean about what they censor and where. Good Morning Silicon Valley says it’s like “watching little Anakin grow up into Darth Vader,” and the Mercury News says Google should change its motto to “Don’t be more evil than necessary” (thanks to IPDemocracy.com for pointing me to that one).
As I said in the comments, after Stuart mentioned that this is just part of doing business, I’m willing to admit that companies have to do certain things in order to grow their business, and I would even agree with Sergey that Google being in China is probably better in the long run than not being there — but what I think all this points out is how problematic it is to have a motto like “Don’t be evil” when you’re a gigantic multinational corporation. It’s a lot easier to pull off when you’re just a little startup. You’ll notice that the oil industry and the U.S. government don’t have a motto like that 🙂 In that sense, Larry and Sergey have made their bed, and now they have to lie in it.