13 January 2010

The Withdrawal of a Sanction?

I don’t want to give the company more credit than it deserves, but is it possible that Google is withdrawing its implicit support of the Chinese government on moral terms?

BEIJING – Google said Tuesday that it would stop cooperating with Chinese Internet censorship and consider shutting down its operations in the country altogether, citing assaults from hackers on its computer systems and China’s attempts to “limit free speech on the Web.” [Note 1.]

A few years ago, it seemed like Google was doing the exact opposite: complying with the Chinese government, and accepting its restrictions on free speech in order to break into a market with enormous potential for profit. The compromise seemed to fly in the face of the company motto, “Don’t be evil.”

The reason I am (warily) encouraged by this turn of events is that I am convinced Google always has profitability firmly in focus, as they should. So, if they are willing to turn away from $300 million annually for a matter of principle, it may well be because they recognize the impracticality of dealing with hostile parties. The recent attack by Chinese hackers along with the increasing restrictions imposed by the Chinese government may have provided Google executives with ample direct evidence of the nature of dictatorships.

As a relatively uniformed outsider observing Google’s actions, I see the possibility of something remarkable: Google executives may recognize the morality of profit, the freedom of action that prosperity depends upon (i.e. individual rights, including the right to free speech), and the long-term impracticality of dealing with people who do not recognize such rights. It would be incredible in this unprincipled, pragmatic age, but perhaps Google is betting that there is more profit to be had in the future if they cease to prop up dictatorships and instead, let them wither. A withdrawal from China might well be Google’s refusal to sanction the enemies of freedom.

I am cautiously optimistic and will be keeping an eye on the story.


1. “Google, Citing Attack, Threatens to Exit China,” Andrew Jacobs and Miguel Helft, The New York Times, 12 Jan 2010.

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