Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Google grows a pair

Google is deciding to stand up for itself and the ideas it represents, namely the ability to access information, by threatening to withdraw from China. Google had long been cowed by the Chinese government into obeying Chinese laws by censoring searches, but yesterday it finally decided to end this practice. The company blog says that "we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn". From here, it's possible to search Google China for "offensive" terms like "6-4 incident", the Chinese name for the Tiananmen Square massacre, but in the past it wasn't even possible from Canada.

Google's decision takes courage considering the money at stake, though it's worth noting how it came about. Denial-of-service attacks against Google last month were traced to China, and the ensuing investigation revealed that the Google accounts of Chinese human right activists abroad had been breached. Clearly, this is not only a moral stand for Google, but also a matter of providing basic security to its users.

A possibility noted in this article is that Google could be banned in China, making it impossible for Google to index Chinese-language pages. The Chinese Internet is as vast and as amusing as our own. To be deprived of it would deprive me of one of my sources of entertainment, but of course, it would also reshape the Internet considering that China has the most Internet users in the world.

The Internet is bizarre in China. This is already a country without Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and (significant because I use it) Blogger. I met people my age who spoke fluent English but had never heard of YouTube. Some university students I met insisted that Facebook was really just for "modern" people, not for them. Xinjiang province, about triple the size of France with a population of 20 million, went six months without any Internet access. When access was restored two weeks ago, it was only to the state news agency Xinhua and the state newspaper, People's Daily.

It's heartening that Google is not further aiding this travesty, but it's concerning what the consequences of its insubordination will be. Google is concerned enough to append this to the end of the notice on its blog: "We want to make clear that this move was driven by our executives in the United States, without the knowledge or involvement of our employees in China who have worked incredibly hard to make Google.cn the success it is today".

1 comment:

Shan said...

It's about time. Their "Don't be Evil" motto was getting increasingly hard to believe while they were cooperating with the Evil Empire.