27 January 2006

Google's Peek Over the Great Wall

At the official Google blog, Andrew McLaughlin, Senior Policy Counsel at Google, eloquently responds to the storm of criticism leveled at the company for its decision to enter the Chinese market, subject to restrictions imposed by the Chinese government:
Launching a Google domain that restricts information in any way isn't a step we took lightly. For several years, we've debated whether entering the Chinese market at this point in history could be consistent with our mission and values. Our executives have spent a lot of time in recent months talking with many people, ranging from those who applaud the Chinese government for its embrace of a market economy and its lifting of 400 million people out of poverty to those who disagree with many of the Chinese government's policies, but who wish the best for China and its people. We ultimately reached our decision by asking ourselves which course would most effectively further Google's mission to organize the world's information and make it universally useful and accessible. Or, put simply: how can we provide the greatest access to information to the greatest number of people?

Filtering our search results clearly compromises our mission. Failing to offer Google search at all to a fifth of the world's population, however, does so far more severely.

It's a measured response calculated, I believe, to explain an inherently problematic decision rather than to attempt to justify it to the many who have called for a boycott of Google's services to protest its decision.

Ultimately, the conditions imposed upon Google will be be relaxed in response to pressure felt by the Chinese authorities not from Google but from their own increasingly tech-savvy and affluent populace. Even in the most controlled political environments, it is difficult to retract freedoms once they are extended to the people; instead, freedoms tend to expand over time. The restrictions China places upon its people's access to Google and other internet-based information may exist in some fashion for an extended time, but limited access, while it may satisfy most for now, will not forever.

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