Whilst Google may be prepared to stand its ground, and growl and bark at the US Department of Justice over demands for search data, when it comes to the Chinese authorities the search engine giant has become like a little puppy, rolling over so its tummy can be tickled.
Last week Google hit the headlines for refusing to accede to a US Department of Justice demand that the search engine giant hand over data on all the searches made in one week. Fast forward a few days and all of sudden we find Google is planning to censor local Chinese versions of its search and news sites for fear of upsetting the Chinese authorities.
Google’s famously has as its motto “Don’t do evil” so why is it standing up for the rights of its users in one country but not in another?
Money, is of course at the root of Google’s decision. Internet giants from Google, through to Microsoft and Yahoo!, are desperate to get a foothold in China, in the belief that, with a population of 1.3 billion and Internet usage already above the 100 million mark, it is a market that just cannot be ignored.
In a statement on its decision Google said:
"While removing search results is inconsistent with Google's mission, providing no information (or a heavily degraded user experience that amounts to no information) is more inconsistent with our mission,"
In other words, access problems to the Chinese version of the Google.com site has seen the company lose market share to rival Baidu.com, so the only way it can keep its shareholders happy and succeed in China is to sell-out and keep the authorities on side.
Oh well, what does Tiananmen Square and the systematic destruction of Tibetan culture matter anyway.
To be fair to Google, it has not censored its standard US-based search-engine, and is the last of the world’s major search-engines not to have done so inside China, according to human rights group Reporters Without Borders. Yahoo!, for example, has been censoring content for 3 years.
Although Google says it will warn users at the bottom of the search page when content has been removed, the growing dominance of Google means that we are moving towards a world where if a document does not appear on Google then it might as well not exist at all.
In an attempt to appease its critics, Google says it will not be launching e-mail, chat or blogging services, because it fears that the government could demand users' personal information.
Microsoft, for example, has come in for heavy criticism over MSN’s decision to take down a blog by Chinese journalist Zhao Jing, highlighting how Bill’s mob are self-censoring blogs posted by its Chinese users.
The allegations against Yahoo! are more serious still, with the Internet giant standing accused of handing over information to the Chinese authorities which led to Chinese journalist Shi Tao being thrown into jail.
Nonetheless, human rights groups remain unimpressed accusing the search engine giant of “hypocrisy”.
Google may be prepared to fight its corner in the US, where standing up for user privacy in the face of spurious demands from the Bush administration paints it in a favourable light, especially when rivals have already caved in to demands.
Sadly, however, when it comes to China, commercial priorities see the “Don’t do evil” motto is all too easily jettisoned in the pursuit of profit.