The State Dept. Google Is Not

Google believes in the power of good. That’s why they’re guided by Sergey’s Don’t Be Evil philosophy. It’s a great ideal, but one that can be tough to uphold in an international business setting. You have to really mean it when you put ideas like that into your charter.
According to David Drummond, SVP, Corporate Development and Chief Legal Officer at Google, Google really means it. Right now, in response to a “highly sophisticated and targeted attack” on their “corporate infrastructure” from within China, Google is questioning whether it will continue doing business in the nation.

We have evidence to suggest that a primary goal of the attackers was accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. Based on our investigation to date we believe their attack did not achieve that objective.
We have taken the unusual step of sharing information about these attacks with a broad audience not just because of the security and human rights implications of what we have unearthed, but also because this information goes to the heart of a much bigger global debate about freedom of speech.
These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered–combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web–have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China.

Of course, the big question is whether or not Drummond is playing a card in a grand game of trans-Pacific poker. Larry Dignan at ZDNet thinks it could be for real.

Google’s currency is user trust. As a global business that profits from tracking users and tailoring ads to them security matters a lot. If users don’t trust Google to keep their data safe Google’s business suffers. In that light, Google’s showdown with China makes sense. Google can’t let one country–even one that could be insanely profitable–erode the company’s goodwill it has built up in its short history.

Additionally, Time reports that Google has already moved to lift the censored search results it has provided in China since 2006.

This morning in Beijing, was returning results for sensitive topics like the Dalai Lama and the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement. Previously, a search for “Tiananmen” would only return results about the square itself, while noting that because of government restrictions some content was unavailable. Now links to pages that include information about the bloody government crackdown in 1989, though the page appears to have fluctuated between uncensored and censored over the course of the day.

Google is far from the top search engine in use in China. Baidu has 77% of the market, compared to 13% for Google, according to a September 2009 survey by the state-run China Internet Network Information Center.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.