Monday, March 22, 2010

Google Government: Why Uncensoring Itself May Have Been Bad

Surely the entire Internet has heard by now: Google recently redirected its censored Chinese search engine to the uncensored site in Hong Kong. Ever since news broke that the hackers who broke into Chinese activists' Gmail accounts were from mainland China, it was anybody's best guess as to what Google would do. Some speculated that they would work out a compromise, others thought they would partially pull out of China, while others still thought they would kill their Chinese offices completely. Well Google has made its move, and they have legally started to provide uncensored content to the Chinese mainland. How long will the site last before the Chinese government blocks it? Probably not long. This move out of China is legal, and net neutrality advocates are probably rejoicing, but should Google have taken on such a political agenda?

People are constantly worried that Google is getting too big. They are spreading their arms across new markets every day. Uncensoring China may just be a sign that Google really is too big. When should a search engine company start getting involved in political affairs? Probably never. Google should stick to worrying about their services and, more importantly, their profits. I would rather hear that Google released some kind of new super-product than hear they found a way to navigate around Chinese law and screw over everybody in China. So while I am all for net neutrality, and I absolutely hate the fact that the Chinese government is censoring the Internet, Google is not the company to take action on it. This just shows the executives at Google are thinking bigger than they really are.

Another reason Google should not have uncensored their Chinese search engine is their reputation. Just think it over logically: you could either be a multinational, neutral search engine company, always focusing on the user and helping out the little guy; or you could be the political giant on the verge of being broken up by antitrust investigations, taking on projects bigger than itself and hoping for the best. It's just not the face you want to have, especially when your company is too big already. Hopefully this goes over well for Google, because I would hate to see anything happen to them.

The final reason Google should not have uncensored their Chinese search engine is for their own good. It is not as if Google is the leading search engine in China, and pulling out would affect hundreds of millions of Internet users. Baidu is the biggest right now (in China, at least), and a lot of people have not even heard of Google. In fact, the bloggers and media companies of the United States probably know about it more than China itself. So uncensoring their search engine does nothing for the Chinese. All it does is show Google has the power to pull its services out a country, a power every company has anyway. So in the end, all that results is Google losing whatever profit it gained from its Chinese offices. Furthermore, whatever chances Google had at competing with Baidu and gaining a bigger search engine share in China are ruined. Google could have stayed in China, competed and tried to gain the upper edge on Baidu, and then pulled out at a more opportune time when China would have felt the effects.

So while I still fight for net neutrality, and still advocate for Google, their decision to uncensor their Chinese search engine was not the best move, and might come back to haunt Google in the end.


  1. I agree that it would have been a more effective strategy to gain more critical mass in china and then make demands, but maybe it is naive to think that Google could have gathered a bigger share then they already have (30-36%... pretty impressive if you ask me, since china's population is 1.3 billion+ ... 1.3 billion x 33% is larger than the population of the U.S.) considering that Baidu has the blessing of the chinese government. Maybe Google knows that they have peeked and given the recent events, thought that now would be the best time to flip the switch.

  2. That's a good point. Didn't think of that. If only Google would tell us more of their inner workings.