The honest messenger

ZenPundit Mark Safranski has a fascinating observation in response to the story of Google’s collusion with the Chinese government to censor searches made by the Chinese using Google there:

If you have agreed to censor what information can be accessed in China in return for greater market opportunities, have you also agreed to censor what information can be accessed about China by the rest of us ?

I must admit that question never occurred to me and suggests that this may be a “New Coke” moment for Google. Here we have a company with a total capitalized value greater than that of General Motors based on very little else but faith. Is that faith well placed?

I’m reminded of the quote that I’ve heard variously attributed to George Bernard Shaw and to Winston Churchill: “We’ve already established what you are, ma’am. Now we’re just haggling over the price.” The question, presumably, is what is Google’s price and what it the concommitant cost in a repute system like the World Wide Web.

UPDATE: Jon Henke of Q&O Blog leaps to Google’s defense concluding:

As far as I can tell, the Chinese people are almost certainly better off with a commie-modified Google than without it. Perfect does not have to be the enemy of good.

9 comments… add one
  • Hi Dave,

    Well Jon is correct that the Chinese are better off with modfied Google than no Google because of the unanticipated effects of information access; the Chinese authorities only know what information will someday become politically relevant after the fact once they eliminate the hot button issues and likely second tier possibilities.

    On the other hand, removing data points surreptitiously on a search engine with the dominance and ubiquity of Google amounts to a longitudinal *strategic shaping* of public perception. I think it is highly relevant to ask Google what agreements, if any, they have made in terms of protecting the public image of certain governments or in furthering agendas of the same.

    Perhaps we need to promote Lexxe as a counterweight. Competition can only help.

    http://www.lexxe.com/

  • Oh, and thank you for the link !

  • Also note that the filtering is overtly weak. It has been demonstrated that it can be gotten around both by a skilled websurfer in China and by misspelling key words.

  • It’s a question that should be asked.

    I do think the answer will be almost certainly be “No, results about China are not being filtered.” But still, it should be asked.

  • Barnabus

    TallDave, you mean, results about China are not being filtered when someone outside of China searches on Google.
    An even more important issue is what bias does Google have and do they impose that on their search results. I seem to recall that they do not carry certain right of center blogs in their news searches whereas they do carry left of center ones.

  • It’s been demonstrated that the filtering in question is weak. Now, has it been demonstrated that the Chinese government will not demand strengthening in response–and that Google will not comply with said strengthening?

    My arms remain crossed. Google has something to prove to me before I ever trust them again.

  • Since Google respects lawful requests to censor based on local regulations, wouldn’t it be a useful service to be able to query the censor list for any country? How many countries are making Google censor *besides* the PRC?

    With Google’s famously flexible API, it should be child’s play to expose the censorship list for public scrutiny and research. Or is the list of censored terms itself a state secret? Then that should be noted too.

  • I think ultimately this will prove to be much ado about nothing. I think what’s really happening here is that Google is playing the PRC bureaurats for fools.

  • You may well be right, TallDave, but from my experience of Chinese leaders they’re probably smarter (or at least shrewder) than the folks at Google. Admittedly, my first-hand knowledge is dated but the guys who run the PRC are bureaucrats but they aren’t just bureaucrats: they’re smart and ruthless and don’t give a damn about either the Chinese people or next quarter’s profitability.

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