San Francisco (AFP) Jan 14, 2010
In drawing a battle line with Chinese Internet censors, Google is reclaiming a "Don't Be Evil" mantle lost in a global business arena where profits routinely trump morals.
While critics challenge whether Google's motivation is altruistic, the search engine seized the high ground by declaring it will not filter query results in China even at the price of being shut out of the booming market.
"I do think a good part of this is they want to do the right thing," Silicon Valley analyst Rob Enderle of Enderle Group said of Google. "But none of these decisions are simple."
Google announced on Tuesday that it would stop bowing to Chinese Internet censors and could pull out of the world's largest online market of 360 million users.
Internet rights activists are hoping that such a stand by an Internet company of Google's stature will reverse the practice of technology firms siding with government censors as a price of admission to China.
"I do think that Google is a bit idealistic; they have a streak there," said Colin Maclay, managing director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University.
"They also have a streak of arrogance and of pride; and they have a big streak of strategy. They're really smart. At least thus far, they've come out smelling like a rose."
The new stand on China hearkens back to days after Google was launched in 1998, when the California firm founded by college students Sergey Brin and Larry Page coined an unofficial motto of "Don't Be Evil."
An "Our Philosophy" page at Google's corporate website on Thursday outlined principles including "You can make money without doing evil."
Google's saintly image was tarnished in 2006 when it launched a self-censored version of its search engine in China to appease the Communist regime.
It has been further impugned by controversies involving tracking people's online behavior to target advertising; indexing copyrighted works such as news stories, and trying to digitize all the books in the world.
"Google believes that one of its asset values is righteousness," said Gartner vice president and analyst Whit Andrews.
"It believes if it was not righteous, it would not make as much money as it does."
Google announced Thursday it is donating a million dollars and Internet technology to relief organizations on the ground in Haiti to help in the aftermath of a deadly 7.0 magnitude earthquake.
During recent international climate talks in Copenhagen, Google unveiled a free tool for monitoring deforestation around the world. Google also provides an online service that lets people track the spread of flu viruses.
The company has also offered a free tool that allows users to control energy consumption in homes and an initiative to cheaper renewable energy.
A "20 percent" program at Google allows workers to devote one paid day weekly to outside causes.
Google executives agonized over the decision to make compromises to get into the China market.
At the time, the company argued a short-term sacrifice would result in long-term good by opening China up to an Internet lifestyle of limitless information.
"Google went in saying we're going to do this responsibly and hopefully we can do more good than harm," Maclay said.
"Now, they are annoyed. They were pissed off at being jerked around a whole bunch and they don't like it. I totally respect their decision to depart."
China-based cyber spies struck Google and at least 30 other unidentified firms in apparent bids to steal intellectual property and hack into the email accounts of rights activists around the world, according to security experts.
"Google is establishing this as a moment when they can draw a line," Andrews said.
"They got hacked even though they censored themselves against their corporate ethos."
The short term cost to Google is relatively small, according to analysts. Google has been losing ground to Chinese search engines and has no major investments in facilities there.
The move makes Google a champion in Western countries where it earns the bulk of its money, and could make the company a less tempting target for anti-trust regulators.
US political leaders have praised Google for defending Internet freedom in China.
"If you are the hero of the current administration, no one wants to be the bureaucrat taking that hero down," Enderle said. "It would be impolitic for someone to go after Google at this time."
Google could formally exit China, then make a deal for a partner to deliver its search services in that country.
"If China came to a point in the next 10 to 20 years where censorship ends, even with a slow retreat, Google's stand will be remembered," Andrews said.
Hailing Google, US lawmakers seek Internet law
Members of Congress said they had new momentum to enact a bill that would prohibit US firms from storing users' personal information in countries that restrict the peaceful expression of political and religious views online.
"Google sent a thrill of encouragement through the hearts of millions of Chinese," Representative Chris Smith, the bill's chief sponsor, told a news conference. "It is a game-changer."
"But IT companies are not powerful enough to stand up to a repressive government like China. Without US government support, they are inevitably forced to be ever more complicit in the repressive governments' censorship and surveillance," said Smith, a Republican from New Jersey.
Under the bill, called the Global Online Freedom Act, the US government would list nations that restrict the Internet and prohibit US companies from storing personally identifiable information in those countries.
Companies would have to report to the State Department which terms countries are trying to filter out. China blocks citizens from accessing uncensored information on sensitive topics such as the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, the Dalai Lama and the banned Falungong spiritual movement.
The bill would also prohibit companies from cooperating in jamming US government websites such as US-funded broadcasters Voice of America and Radio Free Asia.
Google said Tuesday said it would stop bowing to China's censors and could pull out of the China's lucrative online market of 360 million users after discovering Chinese attacks against dissidents' email accounts.
Smith has tried for years to bring the Global Online Freedom Act to the floor of the House of Representatives but it had met a lukewarm response from Internet companies including Google.
Smith declined to say if he expected other companies to lobby against the bill but said his concerns have focused on actions by four US companies -- Cisco, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo.
Yahoo came under intense criticism in 2005 for allegedly providing China with details leading to the email account of journalist Shi Tao, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Human rights campaigners say that Yahoo has improved its record since the experience but have been more critical of Cisco and Microsoft, which both have cooperated extensively with China.
Some Republican supporters of the bill complained of tepid support from President Barack Obama, who has tried to broaden relations with China.
"The Obama administration needs to be standing up and supporting Google. Instead, unfortunately, we have seen a muted response at best," Representative Frank Wolf said.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Thursday the administration "strongly support(s)" Google in the row, a day after declining to give many details beyond saying it backed a "free Internet."
Under the proposed law, employees of IT companies could face up to five years in a US prison if they knowingly give information to a foreign government that would cause a person to be detained or harmed for peacefully expressing political or religious beliefs.
The law aims to bring greater Internet freedom not only to China but to other nations such as Iran, where online activism has turned into a powerful tool for opponents of the clerical regime.
Some 70 cyber-activists are jailed around the world for what they posted online, according to Paris-based rights group Reporters Sans Frontieres, or Reporters Without Borders, which helped draft the proposed law.
China imprisons by far the most at 49, followed by Vietnam and Iran, it said.
"We don't want other Shi Taos," said Clothilde Le Coz, the group's Washington director.
Invoking Google's motto of "Do No Evil," Le Coz said: "Don't let US Internet firms become evil by not giving them the means to challenge the Chinese restrictions."
Share This Article With Planet Earth
Satellite-based Internet technologies
China urges integration of Web, telecoms, broadcast media
Beijing (AFP) Jan 13, 2010
China's government Wednesday called for the acceleration of a proposal to integrate the nation's Internet, telecommunications and broadcast media. The State Council, or Cabinet, decided at a meeting that integration was needed to meet the Chinese public's "increasingly diverse" information needs, a statement summarising the meeting said. However, it said the proposal should include stren ... read more
|The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2009 - SpaceDaily. AFP and UPI Wire Stories are copyright Agence France-Presse and United Press International. ESA Portal Reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement,agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by SpaceDaily on any Web page published or hosted by SpaceDaily. Privacy Statement|