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The China Story

By - January 14, 2010

It’s my sincere hope that this blows up, not over. With reports coming in that the Chinese government was most certainly behind the attack on Google and 20 other companies (and has done this before), and that the White House is now supporting Google’s position, it’s about time that we call a spade a spade here. What China is doing is wrong, regardless of how much debt of ours they hold. Looking the other way in the name of pure profit is a practice whose time should end.

Update: Cato has an interesting take on how the Chinese hackers got in: by leveraging infrastructure Google put in place to help the US Government do wiretaps. Thanks to reader Brandon Byers for this.

Another update: Xian Qiang, who I taught with at Berkeley and launched China Digital Times earlier this decade, has a take here.

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12 thoughts on “The China Story

  1. James says:

    Totally agree with your sentiment here. The question is whether or not Google stays principled and says no to being in China, and then another Chinese Google, run by the Chinese government takes its place. Lesser of two?

  2. soreng says:

    I do not think the question is, “who will fill it if they leave?” the question is, “what is most aligned with their beliefs/ethics?”

    If it was the Chinese Gov attacking into their system to gather information, and if Google cares about honoring privacy, there is no way they can put up with this. This counters everything they stand for. Imagine the arrogance it would take to initiate an attack like that — and these are the people you choose to business with? No way.

  3. A long time ago a movement called “open source” brought a large company named Microsoft to their knees.

    Today people seem to have a different opinion about the right of large companies (such as Google or FaceBook) to control information its users are willing to entrust them with. It seems like FaceBook is opening up, and it seems like Google and the US Government are aligned.

    I cannot say much about China, because I don’t understand it (though I have many close friends who are Chinese — and I also believe that many of their philosophical viewpoints, though quite different than what is popular in the United States today, can certainly boast a longstanding legacy).

    :) nmw

  4. Kazan tatar says:

    Hackers advantage uncovered bags in Internet Explorer.

  5. Adam says:

    I’m not sure I understand the point you’re making. It’s obvious that what China’s been doing is wrong, and it has been obvious. The amount of US debt held by the Chinese has nothing to do with it. What exactly do you expect the US to do? Do you think our government was going to put a stop to it somehow, if only they didn’t hold so much of our debt?

    That position is not coherent to me. There are many nations whose governments are doing bad things that do not hold our debt. Why would you expect us to do any more about China than anyone else?

  6. Tom says:

    China’s ruling class is fighting a losing battle on this one!

    This is not based on ideology or a lack of respect for the durability of their hierarchical structures (whether rationalized via Confucianism’s “empire as family” or Communism’s actually very similar appeal).

    The problem is the same all social organisms face when scaled beyond their origins in the Dunbar-sized organisms of our hunter-gatherer origins…

    The loss of proximity (including, but not limited to physical proximity) between the hierarchically structured networks and networks-of-networks which were necessitated by the move to settled agriculture has facilitated Authoritarianism (and ultimately oligarchy) in virtually ALL civilizations…

    Scale, isolation between networks and other quite natural forces promote a disconnection in world view between these networks. This is paradoxically also facilitated by a remarkable ability by humans in different social groups to either endure hardship or justify luxury as their natural state regardless of whichever of these worlds they happen to inhabit.

    But these divergent rationalizations FAIL once this isolation is bridged… and it tends to fail rather spectacularly since it will generally be accompanied by a strong sense of betrayal.

    ICT forms this necessary but perilous bridge. It shouldn’t and won’t go away.

    So Authoritarian civilizations inevitably fail.

    The only real question is the nature of the transition.

    Information and Communication… I & C… are catalysts for volatile social awareness and reaction.

    But CHANGE only comes with Capability.

    Where none is available, ugly revolutions ensue.

    SO, the miracle of ICT needs ANOTHER ICT…

    ICT 2.0 = Influence Capability Technology

    P.S. Re the ICT 2.0 horse I’m riding, the Individually-controlled/Commons-dedicated Account and it’s resultant network: In addition to its more obvious relationship to influence capabilities for individuals and groups, the overall structure ultimately has important potentials in relation to banking and the nature of exchange mechanisms more generally but that’s a longer discussion. I think an important one.

  7. John Dowdell says:

    John, I don’t see VeriSign’s assertion of the origin sufficiently documented yet. And their parallel assertion that PDF was at-cause has also not yet been borne out by the facts.

    Startlingly, your rush-to-judgment here itself lends weight to the PRC’s case that the Internet breeds confusion! With any blogosphere meme, it’s essential to establish “How do you know what you say you know?”

  8. John says:

    Er, John, my “rush to judgment”? I linked to a piece that makes an assertion. I did not make the assertion. However, the charge that China is behind the attacks is widely asserted. It seems you are motivated to protect Adobe’s interest here, no? I certainly understand why. It’s not established, as I understand it, that the attack came through PDF, or IE8. We may never know due to the sensitivity of the matter. Are you in fact with Adobe? Just want to make sure, because I’d worry if not.

  9. John Dowdell says:

    Yes, it’s me. ;-) I didn’t put corp-affiliation in sig because I wasn’t speaking for Adobe about such a big issue.

    My point is that the blogosphere is indeed a vehicle for the type of misinformation and rumors that concern the PRC. This story itself is proving their point! We each have a responsibility, before spreading a meme, of establishing the evidence on which it is based.

    The China link is plausible, but not yet proven. There are other theories which seem just as plausible. From the evidence in the public realm, you and I simply don’t yet know exactly what happened.

    (Disclosure: I was horrified by Tiananmen in 1989, but have learned since how many Western news reports were exaggerations unsupported by fact. I’m now studying Chinese, have spent weeks at a time in the PRC, and am now horrified by much of the China-bashing I’m seeing in the blogosphere this week. I’ve got my own hot-buttons. Other people at Adobe have different histories.)

    jd

  10. Adam says:

    JD,

    Really? We’re “proving their point”?

    China’s government has a taskforce of tens of thousands of people being paid to do nothing but make sure people aren’t saying things that the government doesn’t want them to say. And you’re saying that their concern is “misinformation and rumors”?

    Their concern is that they don’t like criticism and they don’t like open discourse.

    As for the remark about Tiananmen square, do you deny that people were actually run over with tanks? Or was that just an “exaggeration”?

    People are “China-bashing” because they are a heavy-handed dictatorship. Nothing horrifying about calling a spade a spade.

  11. Gary says:

    Adam,

    Why don’t you check your facts? No one was “run over by tanks” in Tiananmen Square. Thousands of people died and many more were injured, but there are multiple conflicting reports as to the total number of injured and how the violence proceeded. JD is right, Tiananmen Square can be considered a case of Western news report exaggerations.

    I’d also like to see your sources about China employing “tens of thousands of people being paid to do nothing but make sure people aren’t saying things that the government doesn’t want them to say” .

    And lastly, China’s not a “dictatorship”.

    I certainly believe that China’s government was behind these attacks and that the censorship it employs must be stopped, but I think JD’s also right about Western news media exaggerations.

  12. Our webmaster’s server was attacked last week, lo and behold from China. I know my webmaster shows up for popular search terms. Perhaps those responsible, targeted companies who showed up on page one for search terms, just to try and stick it to Google. The old, you mess with me, I’ll mess with you mantra.