Searching for a safe ride on the tiger

Like many other tech companies, Google feels that it has to enage with China, but riding this tiger economony does not always sit comfortably with ethical codes of conduct

Being Googlers means striving toward the highest possible standard of ethical business conduct... our core principles won't change, but the specifics might...Excerpt from Google's code of conduct

After riding high on the back of its decision to snub US Government requests to hand over random Web search data, it appears that some of the specifics laid out in Google's code conduct may have indeed changed — and not necessarily for the better.

The company that aims to organise the world's information announced this week that while it is not afraid to tell its own government where to go when asked to compromise its ideals, it is prepared to embrace a more pragmatic stance to China's government. On Wednesday the search giant launched a Chinese version of it site at Google.cn which will not link to certain sites that do not adhere to "local law, regulation or policy".

Censoring information, in order to comply with the wishes of a regime that has been attacked consistently for its human rights abuses may seem to some to jar with Google's "Don't be Evil" mantra. Human rights organisation Amnesty claimed in 2003 some 40 people were imprisoned or detained in China for terms of between two and 11 years in connection with the use of the Internet, so one can only imagine what that number is today. But it seems that Google has answer for this interesting conundrum:

"While removing search results is inconsistent with Google's mission, providing no information (or a heavily degraded user experience that amounts to no information) is more inconsistent with our mission."

This is a slight spin on the message from most tech firms operating in China (including ZDNet's parent company CNET Networks): that it is better to be in the country/market and effecting change from within than ignoring what is potentially the biggest market in the world.

Google should be applauded for being upfront about its intentions. The search firm appears to have learnt some lessons from Microsoft and Yahoo whose censoring of information on their Chinese sites had to be wheedled out of them.

Ignoring the Chinese market out of principle may have been easier Google remained a private company but its founders realised that an IPO was the only way to grow and growth was the only way to ensure long-term survival. But Google has ideals that aim higher than merely growth and survival — it wants to be more than simply the next Microsoft. Let's just hope that it is Google's alleged ethical approach to business that can effect change from within the pragmatically efficient Chinese regime and not vice versa.

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