Google took a pretty big risk this week when it decided to take on the Chinese government, following its discovery of a targeted cyber attack on its corporate infrastructure that originated in China. Not only was the company no longer going to play by the censorship rules of the most populated nation in the world but it also said it would be willing to shutter its site and close its offices in China because of it.
Google has long been teased over its "Don't Be Evil" motto, especially as it's gone from a small Silicon Valley tech player focused on search to a global Internet giant that uses our personal information on the Internet to feed a lucrative online advertising business.
But since Google dropped its retaliatory online bomb on China this week, no one has been teasing Google. Instead, there's been nothing but praise for the company - with elected officials in Washington and Europe stepping up to not only offer support but to call on other tech giants to also review their policies around conducting business in China.
On Thursday, Neelie Kroes, the woman who currently serves as the European Union's antitrust commissioner but is expected to be named the EU's top Internet official next month, announced support for Google and its decision, as well as open Internet for the free flow of information and communications.
Also on Thursday, the White House finally chimed in to offer its support of Google's decision, even though it remains unclear how U.S.-China relations might be affected by all of this. At a press conference, a White House spokesman said President Barack Obama believes in universal rights for people around the globe that should not be "carved out" for specific countries.
Finally, U.S. diplomats called on China to explain the cyber attacks while a group of Republican lawmakers called on Cisco, Microsoft and Yahoo to review their business operations with China, saying that to not do so is basically "complicity with this kind of evil."
That's kind of harsh - but it also helps explain the sentiment among government officials in free countries. Some have little patience for companies who put business success over the rights of human beings. Google, with its actions this week, has raised the moral bar for large corporations.
And while no one is saying as much, I can't help but wonder how a rose-smelling Google might do when it goes knocking on the doors of Washington and the EU for things like regulatory approval of mergers or acquisitions. After all, this is the company that put morals in front of money and chose good over evil - or so the perception goes. Google reviewed its options and made a decision to stand on its moral ground. Some might argue that Google wasn't strong in China yet so it didn't give up much, But any way you look at it, China is a lot to give up.
Over in Redmond, however, it didn't take long for Microsoft to review its own business practices in China. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer told CNBC Thursday afternoon that the company had no intention of pulling out of China and that it would obey the laws there.
And just as fast, it was put into a different spotlight. The headline on the All Things D Digital Daily blog post Thursday read: "Microsoft: 'Don't be Evil' is Google's Motto, Not Ours."
Still, you can't really blame Microsoft. After all, it needs the support and cooperation of the Chinese government to help it fight off piracy of its software products in that country. Microsoft doesn't have armies of soldiers to go in and raid piracy operations - but the Chinese government does.
Microsoft had to do what it had to do, just as Google also had to do what it had to do. Everyone has strong feelings about this today - but will the sentiment continue to play out this way once the dust settles?