Google has just announced that — in contradiction to the chipper declarations in its famous “Ten Things Google has Found to be True” — it is giving in to the Chinese government and censoring what its Chinese users may find through it. If it didn't help the Chinese government oppress its people, it wouldn't make much money in China.
Tomorrow's Daily Telegraph includes an article trying, as far as I can tell, to reduce Google's culpability by arguing that the Chinese government's attempt to control the internet won't work. I hope the writer of The Great Firewall of China Will Fall is right, but Google is nevertheless serving a brutal government and helping it oppress its people, even if its service will prove only partially effective.
According to the article, the company's heads say
with some justification, that their three-point plan — to show on the site where censorship has occurred; to restrict services so that no lists of names will be handed over to Beijing; and to maintain a Chinese-language site beyond the firewall — is a subtle response to an ethical dilemma. But these fine words cannot hide financial motives. Two years ago, Google's market share in the Middle Kingdom was 50 per cent. Today it is just 20 per cent. And with user surveys showing that the Google users are predominantly old and English-speaking, the writing is on the wall.
There is no ethical dilemma, because they do not have to do business in China at all. The company is not forced to choose between two goods, so that to do one good means the loss of the other, a dilemma that might justify a compromise. The Chinese people will not be deprived of search engines did Google refuse nor greatly aided by its acceptance. The "subtle response" is better understood as an appeasing of conscience, a few concessions that do not change the substance, or the profit, of the decision.
In this Google is following Microsoft and, most appallingly, Yahoo:
In December 2005, Microsoft controversially closed down the political blogger Michael Anti's site, following a request from the authorities. Yahoo went even further and provided information that helped to jail a dissident for 10 years, after he used a Yahoo e-mail to relay the contents of a secret government order.