Saturday, January 16, 2010

Is Google too "CNN"?

(Commented from 1 km from Google China HQ)
In an article titled “Chinese Site Criticizes Investor for Its Google Support”, long-time China hack David Barboza does his best Lou Dobbs impression (here:

“Because of those attacks Google has said it has grown increasingly worried about Beijing’s restrictions on its operations in China and has threatened to pull out.”

On the one hand, attacking email accounts of U.S. human rights critics has little, or nothing, to do with business in China. The use of search, Google maps, Google scholar, and online books and other Google China Internet applications by business and consumers is completely separate from any attacks that may be instigated by individuals/organizations in the country where these products are developed. Indeed, if the criterion for “leaving China” is that individuals/organizations in China attack Google and users of Google, or violate ill-defined "Internet rights", then by this logic Google should also leave any other country where this takes place. Google should, also, remove products and services to Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Venezuela, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria, Yemen, Sri Lanka, Saudi Arabia, Myanmar... perhaps even Russia, Australia, and France.

On the other hand, Internet search restrictions in China are legal, passed by a sovereign government and applicable to all. Google, a U.S. corporation, is threatening a community of users in China, including U.S. citizens, in order to influence laws passed to protect national security. Whether or not “security” is threatened by Internet searches is certainly a question for domestic debate: Green Dam was eventually dropped as a required installation for PC manufacturers; rioting in Xinjiang earlier this year resulted, in part, from Internet portrayals of a fight in Shenzhen. Further, the People’s Congress and executive arms of government review the applicability of laws on a regular basis--something I am certain Google China and Google do not do.

After Lou Dobbs made irresponsible comments about China’s leadership in 2008, Chinese netizens took issue with CNN. A popular phrase at the time was "做人不要太CNN”: One must not be too CNN in interactions ( a variation on the phrase popular in 2004 from the movie Mobile Phone “One must act humanely interactions” (做人要厚道)). Given Google’s motto, one would imagine they would be more interested in acting humanely rather than acting “CNN”. Instead, it seems Google has caught the increasingly widespread disease of moral certitude. Flying too close to China, then, may have melted Google China’s wings, but history has shown that hubris has a way of coming back to bite.