For a long time I’ve taken the mickey out of Google’s famous slogan ‘Do No Evil’. I mean, most companies and individuals go through life with their ethical and moral compass intact and manage to perform this simple piece of behavioural calculus every day of their lives. To me, it takes a particularly arrogant bunch of people to make this slogan a selling point. And it leaves you open to a lot of pot shots form people like me when you get caught with, figuratively speaking, your hand in the cookie jar. And I know the irony of my position, being a Google user. Please, Microsoft, get Bing sorted!
And so it has been for a while with Google and the People’s Republic of China. Google’s presence in China – Google.cn – was only sanctioned by the Chinese Government if the search results were modified (after all, censored is such an evilword) so as to suit the political world view of the PRC. So a search on ‘Tiananmen Square’ might return lots of touristy stuff but certainly wouldn’t bring back stories about student protests, tanks crushing demonstrators, etc. Google’s stand on this always seemed to be rather against their loudly stated intention to ‘Do No Evil’, but in this case it was pretty clear to everyone except those who’d imbibed of the springs at Mountain View that Google were supping with the Devil with a long spoon.
Until this week. This week Google announced they were re-considering their positin in the PRC after the company had detected what it described as “a highly sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate infrastructure”in efforts to get in to the Gmail accounts of Chinese political activists. This is almost certainly Google speak for “We know the PRC Government is behind this but can’t provie it / don’t want to say it in public’. As a result, Google have stated:
“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”.
which at first glance seems pretty brave of Google – looks like they might be following through on the ‘Do No Evil’ stuff and are facing up, toe to toe, to the creators of the Great E-Wall of China. It would be nice to think that Google’s ethical sense has finally determined that by running the filtered service in China they’re actually compromising their own integrity and also supporting a totalitarian regime.
However, I think it’s most likely that Google will use this set of events as an excuse to get out of China altogether. Why? Google are second string in China; the locally developed search engine Baidu has largest market share, with Google apparently being most popular for technical stuff. Google are losing face by their inability to get to the top of the tree in China, even after compromising their integrity. In the West, Google are losing the lustre of ‘Do No Evil’ – in some quarters they’ve overtaken Microsoft as the Corporation you love to hate – certainly for me they’re a larger threat to my personal privacy than Microsoft have ever been in the whole history of that software house.
No, Google will pull out of China, or seriously reduce it’s exposure there, not for ethical reasons, but because it suits Google’s market strategy. They need to save face out there, and regain some of the moral high ground at home. This latest Chinese exploit will give them the excuse they need to exit and try and maintain that it’s all ethics, when it’s actually all market.
For Google’s deal with the Chinese Devil, the spoon they supped with just wasn’t long enough.