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Google to China: Drop Dead -- But What Took So Long?

Does a company whose motto is "Don't Be Evil" really deserve praise for ending its longstanding cooperation with the Great Firewall of Chinese Internet control?
 
 
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It should come as no surprise to anyone -- least of all to Google founding whiz kids Sergey Brin and Larry Page -- that reporting of their company's recent announcement that it would stop cooperating with Chinese Internet censorship was itself heavily censored in China. Although, as the New York Times noted, "Some big Chinese news portals initially carried a short dispatch on Google's announcement," news of the decision "soon tumbled from the headlines." Later reports omitted all references to "free speech" and "surveillance."

Google is said to be considering shutting down its entire operation in China, and has predictably been getting lots of love and props in the blogosphere for doing the right thing and standing up to the Chinese " Evil Empire."

But does a company with a stated corporate goal of "Don't Be Evil" really deserve praise for finally pulling the plug on its longstanding cooperation with the Great Firewall of Chinese Internet control?

I think not.

After allwhat took them so long? Chinese leaders -- with lots of help from American corporate giants like Google, Yahoo and others -- have been using advanced information and communications technology for years in order to suppress information, communication, knowledge and dissent in the world's most populous country.

Google execs linked the decision to pull back to extremely sophisticated (state-sponsored?) cyber attacks on its systems last week - aimed at the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. But given the dismal overall track record of Chinese suppression, how in all reality could they have been surprised by China's latest attack on freedom of speech?

Since entering into its cozy and sleazy 2006 arrangement with China's Market-Leninist regime, Google has readily eliminated banned topics (like, "Tiananmen Square" or "Dalai Lama") from its Chinese search results --- thus aiding and abetting a system of information control that is among the most restrictive in the world. At the time, company officials said that they thought that the benefits of its presence in China - ostensibly providing more information and openness to Chinese citizens -- outweighed being forced to censor search results. And the company has been roundly criticized - including by this writer - for doing so. But despite some muted internal grumblings, Messrs. Page and Brin, along with Google CEO Eric (" The Internet is a cesspool of misinformation") Schmidt, have steadfastly refused to respond - until now.

In all likelihood, they are using the current contretemps to step back from a costly investment and what increasingly was a money-losing proposition, having steadily lost market share of late to Baidu, a Chinese-run company with predictably "close ties with the government."

So while it is true that "Google's response amounted to an unambiguous repudiation of its five-year courtship of the Chinese market," it is equally true that Google has long had the wherewithal, if not the cojones, to tell the Chinese to take their Internet job and shove it. Because it's also true that, despite the fact that most major multinational companies consider a presence in China crucial to their future, Google -- the most successful corporation in the history of the world -- needs China less than China needs Google. And if the Googlers' decision is likely to enrage Chinese authorities, who of course shamelessly deny the obvious fact that they censor the Internet and are by now used to American corporations and governments kowtowing to their supposed might, I can only respond, "Great!"

Screw the Chinese so-called "authorities!" After all, their alleged authority and indisputable power is solely derived from "the barrel of a gun" - as their founding father Mao Tse-Tung once put it.

And their only means of maintaining their increasingly illegitimate power is to rigidly control basic political freedoms and rights of the Chinese citizenry.

If Google does pull back -- not at all a done deal, of course, despite the many glowing notices -- it says it will try to negotiate a new arrangement to provide uncensored results on its search site, google.cn.

As Google's chief legal officer David Drummond said in a statement, "We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on google.cn, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law."

Fat freakin' chance of that!

Instead, it's likely that the eventual result will be Google shuttering its offices in China and turning its back on an estimated $300 million a year in revenue.

That would be good for China's human rights activists, good for the rest of us - and even good for Google. Just don't expect me to congratulate them for thinking, at long last, about doing the right thing.

C'mon guys -- it's easy! Just "Don't Be Evil"

Filmmaker and journalist Rory O'Connor is the author of " Shock Jocks: Hate Speech and Talk Radio " (AlterNet Books, 2008). O'Connor also writes the Media Is A Plural blog.

 
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