Friday, January 15, 2010

Google Takes a Stand

google_logo5 The following editorial appeared in today’s New York Times.  As an organization that devotes considerable time and effort in promoting religious freedom, we believe, Google’s actions in this are both laudatory and worth imitating.

January 14, 2010

Op-Ed Columnist

Google Takes a Stand


It has been dispiriting to see America’s banks apparently stand for nothing more lofty than plunder. It has been demoralizing to see President Obama hiding from the Dalai Lama rather than offend China’s rulers.

So all that makes Google’s decision to stand up to Chinese cyberoppression positively breathtaking. By announcing that it no longer plans to censor search results in China, even if that means it must withdraw from the country, Google is showing spine — a kind that few other companies or governments have shown toward Beijing.

One result was immediate: Young Chinese have been visiting Google’s headquarters in Beijing to deposit flowers and pay their respects.

China promptly tried to censor the ensuing debate about its censorship, but many Chinese Twitter users went out of their way to praise Google. One from Guangdong declared: “It’s not Google that’s withdrawing from China, it’s China that’s withdrawing from the world.”

Cynics say that Google tried to turn a business setback (it lags in the Chinese market behind a local search engine, Baidu) into a bid to burnish its brand. Whatever the motivations, it marks a refreshing contrast to Yahoo assisting the Chinese government in sending four dissidents — Shi Tao, Li Zhi, Jiang Lijun and Wang Xiaoning — to prison for terms of up to 10 years.

“In the 20 years I’ve been doing this work, I can’t think of anything comparable,” said John Kamm, the founder of the Dui Hua Foundation, which has enjoyed remarkable success in encouraging China to release dissidents. Mr. Kamm, a former business leader himself, argues that Western companies could do far more to project their values.

Google announced its decision after a sophisticated Chinese attempt to penetrate the Gmail addresses of dissidents. The episode and the resulting flap highlight two important points about China.

The first is that Beijing is increasingly devoting itself to cyberwarfare. This is a cheap way to counter American dominance in traditional military fields. If the U.S. and China ever jostle with force, Beijing may hit us not with missiles but with cyberinfiltrations that shut down the electrical grid, disrupt communications and tinker with the floodgates of dams.

Moreover, China’s leaders aren’t keeping their cyberarsenal in reserve. They seem to be using it aggressively already.

A major coordinated assault on computers of the Dalai Lama, foreign embassies and even foreign ministries was uncovered last year and traced to Chinese hackers. The operation targeted computers in more than 100 countries and was so widespread that Western intelligence experts believe it was organized by the Chinese government, although there is no definitive proof of that.

(If this column is replaced on with one under my byline praising the glorious courage of the Chinese Communist Party in standing up to the bourgeois imperialists of Google — well, that would make my case.)

A second point is that China is redrawing the balance between openness and economic efficiency. The architect of China’s astonishingly successful economic reforms, Deng Xiaoping, clenched his teeth and accepted photocopiers, fax machines, cellphones, computers and lawyers because they were part of modernization.

Yet in the last few years, President Hu Jintao has cracked down on Internet freedoms and independent lawyers and journalists. President Hu is intellectually brilliant but seems to have no vision for China 20 years from now. He seems to be the weakest Chinese leader since Hua Guofeng was stripped of power in 1978.

Instead, vision and leadership in China have come from its Netizens, who show none of the lame sycophancy that so many foreigners do. In their Twitter photos, many display yellow ribbons to show solidarity with Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese writer recently sentenced to 10 years in prison. That’s guts!

China’s Netizens scale the Great Firewall of China with virtual private networks and American-based proxy servers like Freegate. (The United States should support these efforts with additional server capacity as a way of promoting free information and undermining censorship by China and Iran).

Young Chinese also are infinitely creative. When the government blocks references to “June 4,” the date of the Tiananmen Square massacre, Netizens evade the restriction by typing in “May 35.”

When I lived China in the 1990s, an early computer virus would pop up on the screen and ask: Do you like Li Peng? (He was then the widely disliked hard-line prime minister.) If you said you didn’t like Li Peng, the virus disappeared and did no harm. If you expressed support for him, it tried to wipe out your hard drive.

Eventually, I think, a combination of technology, education and information will end the present stasis in China. In a conflict between the Communist Party and Google, the party will win in the short run. But in the long run, I’d put my money on Google.

 For further comment from other media sources click here or here


AP said...

Google may not like China's censorship, but they have their own when it suits their interests.

Google says they don't tamper with results and they say their "Google Suggest" is based on what people search for. But go to Google's search engine and type in "Christianity is" and see what it suggests. Or try "Hinduism is" or any other religion. But then try "Islam is" and the lack of results will scream at you. No one searches for anything starting with "Islam is"? Fear can be a wonderful censor.

Source: Globe and Mail

Erin Vandenberg said...

Thanks for sharing your comment! The Telegraph also covered this controvery. They ended their article with:

"Google has denied protecting Islam from criticism, claiming that the lack of "Islam is" suggested searches is the result of a software problem that will soon be corrected.

“This is a bug and we’re working to fix it as quickly as we can," a spokesman told

Entering other search terms relating to Islam appears to support Google's claim. "Islam must" generates the suggested searches "be destroyed", "die", "be stopped", "end" and "go"."