Does Google's bold move against China raise the "moral bar" for other companies?

Does Google's bold move against China raise the "moral bar" for other companies?

Summary: Google made a bold move against China this week. Can it offer other benefits in the long run.


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?

Topics: Government US, Browser, Google, Government, Microsoft, Security, China

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  • Not for Ballmer and MS it doesn't; MS is staying in China

    D T Schmitz
    • Along with the rest of the Western world's...

      ...manufacturing industry it seems.

      If I was being cynical I would say this is Google making capital out of completely failing to unseat Baidu.

      But hey ho.
      Sleeper Service
      • I say the same thing

        This is just a PR campaign for Google in a market where they can't compete.
        • Intersting point.

          But it does makes sense. They dump money into a money pit with no returns looming on the horizon.

          So why walk away with nothing, instead spin it to appear that they are forsaking profits for morals.

          At least this way they can get some advertising milage out of it.
          • Moral bars, here in US?

            What kinda moral bar is there under Patriot Act? I haven't seen a plan of Google pulling out of the land of CIA and FBI. In fact, Schmidt was an active supporter of Obama who recently signed to extend the Patriot Act. Talking about raising moral bars.

            What a farce.
          • There is a moral bar, you moron...

            You compare Patriot Act with Chinese government internet policies. One is designed against potential terrorists, the other is designed to curb freedom of speech on a massive scale. All internet data is filtered thru the Chinese Communist government.... This is a dispicable situation and I applaud Google...
          • I'm glad you said something :-) (nt)

          • There is NO moral bar in the US...

            This is off topic, except for the "moral bar" part....we kill our unborn children & put animals ahead of humans in this country...we have NO morals in the US...
          • Semantics

            The Chinese Government considers HR activists and dissenters to be terrorists!

          • Moral bars, here in US?

            I agree LBeige, Google hasn't been not evil enough. There is plenty of
            room to improve.
    • Good for them. At least they are not lieing about it

      as Google has been.

      This is not about morals, this is about Google's "rights" being vilolated. You do understand that, correct?
    • At least they are not hiding it...the author has a point on why - nt

    • Ballmer, MS in bed with the devil

      What they do in China amounts to active
      participation in the regimes crimes against
      • Well then, that goes for EVERY other company that opperates in China

        as well as every countries that imports Chinese
        made products and services... oh and uses
        them... go ahead, turn over that coffee mug...
        yup... aaaand that mouse... and your chair...
        and your computer case... and your monitor...
        and your desk... (yawn) and that basket holding
        all your pocket contents... and... and...
        and... your in bed with the devil. Ever wonder
        what that phrase "judge not" means... obviously
        we're supposed to judge someone as in "be there
        not a judge among you?", it means don't be a hypocrite. (I figured if you were gonna get all
        religious, I'd go ahead and follow) I'm NOT a
        fan of China, I don't believe they are any kind
        of "necessary evil" and I do appreciate the
        stand Google took no matter their motives, but
        MS isn't evil for doing business under the
        common standard.
      • Erm, how exactly?

        By providing products to the chinese? What's your solution, a Cuba-like embargo? Great idea...
  • What does morals have to do with this?

    Google pulls out of China due to an attack of chinese crackers. It fears for it's infrastructure, and since it doesn't do alot of business over there, it doesn't have much to lose.

    I see no grand morals there. And coming from a company who self-censored itself to please Chinese authorities, I don't expect much.

    This is a very successful spin campaign from Google.

    Irony about MS not pulling out misses the point completely. MS just sells it's software, basically the same as it sells all across the world.

    Google (Yahoo too by the way) has for years censored the information it delivers to chinese users to please the powers that be. It's much closer to collaborating than anything MS has done.

    At the end of day, it sounds a lot like there was a kinf tacit agreemnt between Google and China that Google would nicely obey China's censorship demands as long as Google could comfortably do it's business. Once this faustian agreement was breached by China, Google retaliated.

    (Let it be clear I'm not suggesting this kind of agreement was actually in place, but the outcome is the same as if there was one).

    Simple retaliation, nothing particulary noble. And yet, Google comes out like a kind of moral compass? Very good spin indeed...
    • Google would make more money with China than it would with out it

      An attack is nothing, even if Google pays off the hackers they'd still net a profit from China (come on, they can't be that expensive...). Google could also establish their own anti-hacker team in China and collaborate with China to eliminate the hackers. That would still net a profit. Google could offer bounties in China for anyone who turns in a hacker, and that would still net a profit.

      Google could do a lot of things that would be more profitable than leaving China.
      • I'd take morals over money any day.

        I'd take morals over money any day. Boo friggin'
        hoo about their profits. Do the right thing for
        • Google's Move != Moral

          Google's move has NOTHING to do with making the morally proper choice. If Google was truly concerned about making the morally proper choice they'd have never opened (sort of) their search business in China in the first place.

          This move is about a violation of their systems, nothing more. Morals, again, have nothing to do with this. It's all smoke, mirrors and marketing on Google's part.
        • Look, man

          If Google doesn't make money, the company goes
          under. That's 20,222 employees out of work. You
          think we can save them? Yeah, me either.

          What's "the right thing?" China believes it's
          right, the U.S. believes it's right, and you
          believe you're right. I guess they should listen
          to you though because otherwise your feelings are