Tibet Will Be Free (the SFT Blog!)

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Friday, February 03, 2006

Google Takes Its China Apologism to Congress

Our dear friend Andrew McLaughlin, Google's Senior Policy Counsel, wasn't able to attend Wednesday's Congressional Human Rights Caucus Briefing on "Human Rights and the Internet - People's Republic of China." Google's (and Microsoft, Yahoo, and Cisco's) refusal to testify in person before the Human Rights Caucus certainly suggests a new found timidity of interactions with major governments. Fortunately for us, McLaughlin was brave enough to submit a written statement to the HRC Briefing. As before, McLaughlin's apologism warrants a serious dissection.

I'll warn you, a lot of McLaughlin's defense is tired and familiar.
In order to operate Google.cn as a website in China, Google is required to remove some sensitive information from our search results. These restrictions are imposed by Chinese laws, regulations, and policies.
When Andy Mac is talking about "sensitive information" in regards to China, he's not talking about state secrets or blue prints for a nuclear bomb or the recipe for Chairman Mao's legendary chili. No, he's talking about websites like this one that support Tibetan independence, Taiwanese independence, information on the massacre of peaceful protestors by the Chinese government in Tiananmen Square or about the peaceful Falun Gong. Congressman Tom Lantos has an even clearer rebuttal of McLaughlin's ignorant and simplistic defense of censoring "sensitive information":
It has also been argued Internet companies are entitled to apply the same rules of engagement in China that they apply elsewhere.
I cannot begin to describe how disgusted I am by this particular argument. Because, in essence, it equates the vile language and evil purposes of Neo-Nazi groups and hate speech with content provided by the human rights activists of Falun Gong, by journalists and by democracy activists in China. There simply is no comparison between efforts of the democratically-elected government of the Federal Republic of Germany to move against hate-mongerers, and the Chinese regime cracking down on religious freedom, human rights and democracy.
Google cannot pretend to not know the difference between hate speech and calls for democracy in China. They're objectively opposed to each other and it is ethical minimalism to suggest the two forms of censorship are equally justifiable as corporate actions under the law. Unfortunately McLaughlin's willfull ignorance doesn't stop there:
We believe these investments...can help advance key objectives supported by the Chinese government, such as building stronger, more efficient, and more equitable markets, promoting the rule of law, and bolstering the fight against corruption.
Excuse me? I just don't know when it became acceptable for US companies to publicly laud themselves for bolstering tyrannical governments. Google wants to promote the rule of law in China, which is actually a logical explanation of why they're helping the CCP censor search results for information that this tyrannical government is afraid of. Censorship existed in China before Google, yet it still has the same purpose -- to prevent people inside China and Tibet from knowing what's really going on in their world. As the saying goes, knowledge is power and China, like any dictatorship, doesn't want its people to have any power.
We are not happy about governmental restrictions on access to information, and we hope that over time everyone in the world will come to enjoy full access to information...We believe that our continued engagement with China is the best (and perhaps only) way for Google to help bring the tremendous benefits of universal information access to all our users there.
Google must be using the Reverse Psychology Method of Governmental Reform. You're unhappy with China's censorship, so you'll do it for them in hopes that they'll change? You think engagement in a practice you claim to abhor is the best way to get it to stop? I'm sorry, that's simply absurd. Giving China unlimited license to censor information on the internet is not the way to get the CCP to stop censoring. I'm no expert, but I doubt you'll find many psychologists recommending you give your dangerously overweight child an unending supply of Twinkies, cheese fries, and Turducken as a way to convince them to eat less. In the same way, you don't get a government to stop oppressing it's people by telling them you're fine with them doing it.

McLaughlin does offer some good suggestions for the future operational standards of American internet companies to work inside repressive regimes like China.
Together with colleagues at other leading Internet companies, we are actively exploring the potential for Internet industry guidelines, not only for China but for all countries in which Internet content is subjected to governmental restrictions. Such guidelines might encompass, for example, disclosure to users, and reporting about governmental restrictions and the measures taken in response to them.

In addition to common action by Internet companies, there is an important role for the United States government to address, in the context of its bilateral government-to-government relationships, the larger issues of free expression and open communication. For example, as a U.S.-based company that deals primarily in information, we have urged the United States government to treat censorship as a barrier to trade.

These are two legitimate, thoughtful ideas for creating a better, smarter way for US companies to do business with China. First, US tech companies need to sit down and agree that for the sake of their morals and their desire not to face boycotts like this one, they will all agree to uphold standards commensurate with America's democratic principles. Don't promote censorship, don't turn journalists over to the authorities, and protect your users privacy -- none of these should be a stretch. Of course the flip side is that China's domestic laws really are a barrier to trade with China. Google admirably held out on censorship for a long time, but if the US government treated China's internet censorship as a trade barrier for American companies, Google could have recourse to providing a better product that didn't spread propaganda. Hopefully Congress under the leadership of Lantos and Chris Smith will move towards protecting the ability of American companies to preserve our ethical standards of business practice when dealing with China. All that said, I haven't seen Google , Microsoft, and Yahoo rush to form these standards McLaughlin is suggesting.

One last matter before I leave McLaughlin be until his next writing.
Google has been actively engaged in discussion and debate about China with a wide range of individuals and organizations both inside and outside of China, including technologists, businesspeople, government officials, academic experts, writers, analysts, journalists, activists, and bloggers. We aim to expand these dialogues as our activities in China evolve, in order to improve our understanding, refine our approach, and operate with openness.
I'm not in a position to verify this statement because Google has never reached out to Students for a Free Tibet or any of the bloggers who write for Tibet Will Be Free. As far as we know Google has never consulted with Tibetans about their opinions on censorship in China. Clearly a voice was missing from whatever internal debate they were having. Whatever discussions Google did have, in the end they ignored every voice against censorship and oppression and for freedom and democracy.

If Google is actually committed to having dialogue on this issue, I suggest they reach out to someone or some group whose opinion differs from their own. If Google still thinks it can effect change in China, they need to understand what avenues of Change they've blocked out by censoring websites on Tibet, human rights, and democracy. Students for a Free Tibet's supporters have sent well over 38,000 emails to Google. We have received no response. If Google has any real commitment to increasing Tibetans' access to information in China, they should contact Students for a Free Tibet for our opinions on their action. In case they haven't been able to surmise them yet...


  • At 2:26 PM, Blogger The Stuffed Tiger said…

    The World's Most Powerful Search Engine...The World's Worst Search Engine Company.

    Is there an alternative to Google AdWords? They're so easy/ubiquitous, but they go towards supporting Google.

  • At 10:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I am a german citizen living in China as a foreign expert since 3 years. I would like to advice anyone investing in china - not to trust Chinas tricky govermental politics and not to take part in it. Googles strategy in china was a wrong decision.It will proof itself out sooner or later. Nevertheless it is possible to overcome the restrictions imposed by the chinese GOV and get to anywhere even on Google by using for example something like Tenebrils Proxy whch I am using right here.


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