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Yow. Brin Waffles on China

By - June 06, 2006

Chinese-Dragon-Green-17-Large-TmI’ve written a lot about Google and its decision in China – I’ve always thought that the company had a chance to lead here, but talked itself into doing what everyone else has done. In fact, back when Google was just getting into China, I wrote:

The Real Irony Here…is that Google is, for the first time, being a content editor. I’ve written extensively about how Google, by its very DNA, does not like to be an editor of content. But in China, it’s doing exactly that.

Google’s first big editing job? Deciding which sites to exclude because they might offend the Chinese government.

There’s still time to pull out, guys. I’ve read your rationalizations, and Uncle Bill’s as well. I don’t buy them. I don’t buy that this is what, in your heart, you believe is right. Sure, I understand the logic. But, well….in your heart, is this what you wanted to do? No? Then why did you do it?

Now comes this news from the AP: “Brin says Google compromised principles.”

From the story:

Google Inc. co-founder Sergey Brin acknowledged Tuesday the dominant Internet company has compromised its principles by accommodating Chinese censorship demands. He said Google is wrestling to make the deal work before deciding whether to reverse course.

Meeting with reporters near Capitol Hill, Brin said Google had agreed to the censorship demands only after Chinese authorities blocked its service in that country.

…Google’s China-approved Web service omits politically sensitive information that might be retrieved during Internet searches, such as details about the 1989 suppression of political unrest in Tiananmen Square. Its agreement with China has provoked considerable criticism from human rights groups.

“Perhaps now the principled approach makes more sense,” Brin said….Brin said Google is trying to improve its censored search service, Google.cn, before deciding whether to reverse course. He said virtually all the company’s customers in China use the non-censored service.

“It’s perfectly reasonable to do something different, to say, ‘Look, we’re going to stand by the principle against censorship and we won’t actually operate there.’ That’s an alternate path,” Brin said. “It’s not where we chose to go right now, but I can sort of see how people came to different conclusions about doing the right thing.”

My goodness. My My My.

Recall what Eric Schmidt said just a short five weeks ago? “Eric Schmidt, the Google chief executive, used the recent relaunch of the company’s brand in China to reaffirm his commitment to the territory and made it clear that Google has no intention of confronting China’s ruling Communist Party over online restrictions.”



My my my.

(thanks, Philipp)


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8 thoughts on “Yow. Brin Waffles on China

  1. The young Web surfers are probably savy enough to know that they can use anyone of the dozens of FREE ONLINE ANONYMOUS PROXIES available for surfing….and of course – some META Search engines still encompass or default to the google.com SERPs…

    Surely, Brin, Page, Schmidt also were aware of the many “loopholes”.

    It was an extremely difficult decision to wrestle with.

  2. KING TROLL says:

    FIRST!!!

    I got a question John. I own multiple apparel stores. I have a great local brand name. Should I get a tagline? My brother suggests no, because our name is good enough. How important is a tagline? Google doesnt have one, Nike does. What should I do?

  3. Whether Google will do something different sounds nice but I doubt it.

    To do business in China results in compromising with the government and in Google’s case it means omitting politically sensitive information.

    Over the last couple of days I noticed that Google.com and gmail.com had some outages but that can be due to a number of reasons.

    It could be intentional to drive people to the .cn version, it could be a hick-up in the firewall, it could be the pipes, it could even be China Telecom.

    More interesting to read is that Brin mentioned “..virtually all the company’s customers in China use the non-censored service.”

    Is that out of habit?
    Is it because Google.com is the default search engine in the browser?
    Is it because customers want to search for something “bad”?

    Answers to these questions could be rather useful to help in deciding the ‘something different”.

    But besides all this, the main questions is this. What happens if Google decides to pull out, cancel google.cn.

    My guess is nothing will happen. Well nothing, it’s likely google.com will be less accessible or maybe blocked totally as the Government will feel frustrated by the fact that the Google guys don’t play along.

    Chinese customers may not be happy, discuss it even but in the end they are used to sudden changes and will move their searches to baidu and yahoo or use proxies if they are internet savvy enough.

    Not so long ago they changed their name to Guge to chinafy their operation here. I actually translated their introduction song and in my view it showed a lack of understanding as nobody was waiting for that. Why change the name of a brand that all internet users in China are familiar with?

    Right now they are sending mixed signals, as noted by John, which shows that internally in Google the views are not yet on the same page.

    It could be, but that’s my speculation, that part of the deal of chinafying Google.cn (Guge.cn) is that the Government has promised to leave Google.com alone. (Although that doesn’t imply one can find everything in Google.com as certain sensitive searches are blocked there anyway and freeze the page for some minutes)

    For the moment, keeping both sites in place, sounds like the best way forward and one can only hope that the .com will stay accesible

  4. Axure says:

    I can’t understand what’s all this “bad Google” discussion about. To me it’s clear: the Chinese government has full control of the main network nodes (routers or sth) in their country so they can ban virtually any IP address they want (including proxies). So they can tell any company, including Google: either you comply with our demands or you won’t be seen in China. So the choice for Google is very clear: either Chinese people will have access to the best search engine in the world (although somehow limited) or not at all. There’s no “do no evil” option, it’s just less evil. In my opinion it is god-damn-clear that it’s better for those poor people to have at least censored Google than no Google at all. (And at least Google tells on their search results page whether it was censored, while others don’t, as far as I know.)

    Now you can run into details, like some smart kids using proxies, but you have to remember that most people don’t know how to use proxies, and that proxies can be blocked too.

  5. > either Chinese people will have access
    > to the best search engine in the world
    > (although somehow limited) or not at all.

    Wrong. Google.com, by Google’s own estimates, was up 90% of the time for users from China.

  6. Further muddying the waters… My wife is Chinese and is in China right now. For the last week or so she hasn’t been able to access her Gmail account from Zhengzhou (central China). I believe it’s still accesssible from Shanghai. As a stopgap she created a Hotmail account, which is still accessible.

  7. Axure says:

    @ Philipp Lenssen
    Ok, so if google.com is accessible most of the time and it is not censored, then there’s no problem with censorship at all, for 90% of the time, right? The more I think the whole hype is pointless.

    Besides, if you need to kick someone’s ass, do it to the ones that are responsible for censorship in the first place – the Chinese government.