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Has Google Done Evil?

Google enters the Chinese market, and in order to do so has agreed to actively censor materials in its searches that annoy the local authorities. There's a lot of largely unreflective thinking on how this contradicts Google's mission statement, "Don't be evil."

Hogwash.

The silliest comparison I've come across finds expression on Publius Pundit:

Google will resist the U.S. government, but won’t stand up in any way to China? Judging by its actions at home, one would think Google to be a pioneer in bringing access to information and resisting attempts from governments to repress it or monitor it. This says that isn’t the case, and it makes me wonder — just a little — what its motivation is to resisting the U.S. government and giving in to the Chinese. Perhaps they should change their motto to, “It’s just business.”

That's apples and oranges. In the U.S. case, Google doesn't want to provide oceans of private data so that Attorney General Gonzalez can make stupid arguments about the efficiency of web filtering. With the Chinese, it's exactly the opposite: Google can filter its searches without moral qualm so long as it's relatively certain that the Chinese people will have freer access to information with Google than without. There's really only two things you need to know to evaluate this: how good is Google? How well do the web-filters work?

We know Google works. We also know that most internet filters are pretty easy to avoid. If the new system is filtering based on government blacklist, ineffective filters have a double benefit: not only don't they stop the flow of information, but they also burn hundreds of man-hours in maintenance time that might be used on some more effective method of oppression. Unless Google is unveiling some vast new technology that will allow the Chinese government to throttle information more effectively through Google.cn, we have a net win for Chinese freedom.

Would Chinese websurfers be better off with Google obstinately refusing to enter the market? Only if one feels that the search engine behemoth is so powerful that the Chinese Communist Party is going to adopt First Amendment jurisprudence in wholesale lots just to get some GoogleJuice.

I'll change my opinion if it turns out that Google has set up a brand new Censorship Division looking into CensorRank technology. Until that happens, consider this my corollary to the Google mission statement: "Most of the time, doing evil very badly isn't functionally different from not doing evil at all."

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You may want to consider that part of the license that Google will receive from the Chinese government to operate an internet service in China will include obligations to comply with requests for identifying information on users who execute particular searches. They will also be required to filter all sites meeting certain criteria - usually Chinese language sites that mention Taiwan or Tianamen or democracy - as well as blocking all sites specifically listed by the Chinese government, and China has a huge department devoted to searching out everything the Chinese people shouldn't see. While I agree that Google may increase access to information generally, I doubt that Google will increase access to any "useful" information in Chinese. The reality of the Chinese internet licensing system is that any information that is going to get through already gets through on Yahoo or MSN. The addition of Google to the mix will likely only benefit Google. I can't really see a problem with Google throwing down with Yahoo; they are probably doing some evil. China wouldn't let them establish business operations unless it somehow benefits China.You may want to consider that part of the license that Google will receive from the Chinese government to operate an internet service in China will include obligations to comply with requests for identifying information on users who execute particular searches. They will also be required to filter all sites meeting certain criteria - usually Chinese language sites that mention Taiwan or Tiananmen or democracy - as well as blocking all sites specifically listed by the Chinese government, and China has a huge department devoted to searching out everything the Chinese people shouldn't see. While I agree that Google may increase access to information generally, I doubt that Google will increase access to any "useful" information in the Chinese languages. The reality of the Chinese internet licensing system is that any information that is going to get through already gets through on Yahoo or MSN. The addition of Google to the mix will likely only benefit Google. I don’t have a problem with Google throwing down with Yahoo in China, but they are probably doing some evil. China wouldn't let them establish business operations in China unless it somehow benefits the ruling party (most likely through taxes).
The usual confusion appears to have arisen between doing evil things and having dealings with those who do evil things. In this case, Google are engaging in the latter.
Deb: Certainly requests for IP addresses aren't going to be any more useful from Google than anyone else. I've already covered the filtering issue: the filter requirement seems pretty tepid and easy to get around. And as I said, I think access to Google is a pretty unalloyed good: Chinese web users will be able to play with a much more effective search engine. As for benefitting China through taxes.... yes, that might be true, but by that standard I'm benefitting the Chinese government by buying my cheap Chinese fridge. "Everyone's a little bit evil...." (to paraphrase Ave. Q).

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