Bravo! Google takes a stand for human rights in China

Summary:I admit to being a bit tough on Google in the past but they are one of the biggest kids in the playground and we are entitled to expect a lot from them when it comes to corporate responsibility leadership. And today Google is living up to and far beyond the call of its moto - 'don't be evil'.

I admit to being a bit tough on Google in the past but they are one of the biggest kids in the playground and we are entitled to expect a lot from them when it comes to corporate responsibility leadership. And today Google is living up to and far beyond the call of its moto - 'don't be evil'.

In an extraordinary blog post David Drummond, Google's Chief Legal Officer goes public to report:

  • serious cyber attacks on Google's infrastructure last month that resulted in theft of IP
  • 20 other companies from a broad range of sectors including finance, chemicals, media, technology were also targeted
  • the gmail accounts of Chinese human rights were targeted
  • subsequent investigation found that dozens Gmail accounts of human rights activists in the US, Europe and China were breached by organized phishing scams separate from the attack last month

Says Drummond:

Like many other well-known organizations, we face cyber attacks of varying degrees on a regular basis. In mid-December, we detected a highly sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate infrastructure originating from China that resulted in the theft of intellectual property from Google. However, it soon became clear that what at first appeared to be solely a security incident--albeit a significant one--was something quite different.

It appears, over time Google has found it hard to live up to its values in doing business in China and now its prepared to courageously confront the possibility that it will no longer continue to operate there if it cannot do so ethically. Google has already taken the decision that it will no longer censor Google.cn searches.

We launched Google.cn in January 2006 in the belief that the benefits of increased access to information for people in China and a more open Internet outweighed our discomfort in agreeing to censor some results.

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. We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn, and so 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, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China.

The decision to review our business operations in China has been incredibly hard, and we know that it will have potentially far-reaching consequences.

Such a principled stand does indeed have far reaching consequences and we all ought to be thankful to Google for taking a stand for all of us, for universal principles of human rights. Such bravery is sadly all too rare and with too many companies and governments demonstrating a sense of learned impotence that is the tragedy of the commons when it comes to human rights and sustainability. Perhaps this move will prompt Yahoo! CEO, Carol Bartz to rethink her position on China which she set out last summer in response to questioning by Amnesty International:

Okay, I’m going to go real simple here. Yahoo is not incorporated to fix China. I’m sorry. It wasn’t incorporated to fix China. It was incorporated to give people a free flow of information. Ten years ago the company made a mistake but you can’t hold us up as the bad boy forever. We have worked better, harder, faster than most companies to respect human rights and to try and make a difference. But it is not our job to fix the Chinese government. It’s that simple. We will respect human rights, we will do what’s right, but we’re not going to take on every government in the world as our mandate. That’s not the mandate that the shareholders gave us.

One year into her CEO tenure this week Carol Bartz captured headlines by giving herself a B-. If she stands shoulder to shoulder with Google on a principled stand to protect human rights under threat I'll give her an A+.

Topics: China, Emerging Tech, Google

About

James has more than 15 years of experience working on corporate sustainability issues from both the corporate and NGO campaigning perspective. He has worked directly within the banking (Farm Credit System), aviation (British Airways) and IT (SAP) sectors in the USA and Europe. His campaigning experience includes work at Amnesty Internatio... Full Bio

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