I was a supporter of Google going into China; I support their new approach. I will be very interested to see how China reacts. Color me hopeful. Though the NYTimes adds some troubling detail:
Google did not publicly link the Chinese government to the cyber attack, but people with knowledge of Google’s investigation said they had enough evidence to justify its actions.
A United States expert on cyber warfare said that 34 companies were targeted, most of them high-technology companies in Silicon Valley. The attacks came from Taiwanese Internet addresses, according to James Mulvenon, an expert on Chinese cyberwarfare capabilities.
Mr. Mulvenon said that the stolen documents were sent electronically to a server controlled by Rackspace, based in San Antonio.
“For Google to pull up stakes and basically pull out China, the attack must have been large in scope and very penetrating,” Mr. Mulvenon said. “This attack highlights the fact that cyberwarfare has basically gone to the next level.”
The State Department has allocated funds to companies to help get around Internet firewalls put up by China and other countries, although there is some controversy over those funds because one of the most successful outfits that does that kind of work is run by members of the Falun Gong sect, which is banned in China. The Global Internet Freedom Consortium has yet to receive significant, if any, government funding.
“The Chinese would go ballistic if we did that,” said one U.S. official.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is scheduled to give a speech on Internet freedom next week.
In The American Spectator, Joseph Lawler calls it a momentous decision, and gives Google great credit for refusing this latest despotic act:
Of course, Google is still a business, interested in making money. The best case scenario is that Google is betting that they are too important in China for the government to call their bluff and refuse to let Google stop censoring searches. Obviously Google has information that we don’t. Hopefully what they’re seeing is that they can find a way to provide uncensored web searchs to the Chinese without horribly compromising human rights.
Needless to say, it would be nice to see Bing and Yahoo announce that they are also not willing to compromise…
CNet asked both Yahoo and Microsoft about their plans. No answer yet. Microsoft has “8 million Hotmail accounts in China, although none of the data is stored there, according to a source familiar with the company’s operations.”
What are the implications for Google Apps and its cloud computing infrastructure? ReadWriteWeb:
In an unusual display of concern, the president of Google Enterprise has made a public statement saying there should be no cause for alarm… David Girouard, Google’s president of Google Enterprise, said in a personally written blog post that Google suffered a massive cyber attack last month. […]
This is an incredible incident that will lead to some major issues for Google Enterprise over the next several months. As the battle heats up for cloud computing supremacy, competitors will pick at this incident as an example of why a company that’s more security conscious should be trusted with customer data, not a search engine giant.
James Fallows’ is a reaction I’m watching for. He’s got a placeholder post up and promises more tonight.
Tech press reaction to the Google move is universally positive — with the occasional sniping, what took you so long?
ZDNet’s James Farrar shouts Bravo!
I admit to being a bit tough on Google in the past but they are one of the biggest kids in the playground and we are entitled to expect a lot from them when it comes to corporate responsibility leadership. And today Google is living up to and far beyond the call of its moto – ‘don’t be evil’.
Mashable’s Adam Ostrow says Google’s reclaimed a slice of its “Don’t Be Evil” mystique:
Mind you, if Google’s ultimately successful, they do stand to gain plenty –- a search engine operating in a free and open market is more profitable than one in a closed and censored one. But we think it’s unlikely that China will essentially reverse course on some of its fundamental values in a matter of weeks, and as such, Google will likely feel pain to its bottom line in the short-term, especially if competitors like Baidu, Microsoft, and Yahoo don’t take a similar position.
It’s too soon to give Google a standing ovation – we’ll wait and see what kind of agreement, if any, they’re able to strike with the Chinese government before full adulation. But at least for a day or two, we can once again think of Google as a company that stands for more than a never ending quest for market share and profit.
Ben Parr looks at the global implications of Google’s move. He thinks hopes like the one I expressed above are absurd:
To think that China would change its rules and allow its citizens unfiltered access to what it believes is objectionable content (e.g. porn), as well as information and images on its greatest atrocities, is absurd. China backing off would weaken its iron-grip hold and open it up to more calls for the abolition of censorship inside its borders.
Yes, I know China has a long and disturbing history of censorship. But it’s also tried hard to improve its image around the globe (remember the Olympics?) and has successfully raised hundreds off millions of people out of poverty.
I’m not completely naive. My best hope would be a compromise. (And I know that everything that’s happened in the last year argues against my best hope.)
Jonathan Zittrain’s hopes are more informed, elegant, and nuanced:
My hope, and expectation, is that Google engineers who might have been a bit halfhearted about implementing censorship mandates in google.cn could be full-throttle in coming up with ways for Google to be viewed despite any network interruptions between site and user. There are lots of unexplored options here. They’re unexplored not because they’re infeasible, but because most sites would rather not provoke a government that filters. So they don’t undertake to get information out in ways that might evade blockages. Here, Google would have nothing more to lose, so could pioneer some new approaches. Circumvention of filtering (or other blockages, for that matter) tends to happen on the user side of things, seeking out proxies like the Tor network, or anonymizer.com.
To be sure, many of the larger benefits of operating in China originally cited by Google four years ago — exposing the citizenry to services beyond those locally grown and monitored; engaging them beyond the “China Wide Web” to which some government officials aspire to limit them; and gaining market share that can create momentum and support for later loosening of restrictions — may attenuate. Google.cn is less known and used than, say, the local Baidu search engine, which boasts about 60% market share. That share is about to get even bigger.
But drawing a line is both the right move and a brilliant one. It helps realign Google’s business with its ethos, and masterfully recasts the firm in a place it will feel more comfortable: supporting the free and open dissemination of information rather than metering it out according to undesirable (and capricious) government standards.
Siva Vaidhyanathan at the googlization of everything is more cynical than hopeful, but winds up in the same place:
It’s commercial malpractice to back out of the largest market in the world on principle. Google must have some good business reasons. …
So don’t buy any lines about Google’s commitment to free speech or not being evil. That’s not the plane on which this is happening.
The key here is that Google is threatening to pull Google.cn out of reach of the millions of elite, cosmopolitan users within the People’s Republic. Most Chinese Web users use Baidu. But Google is the choice of those who travel, do business overseas, or are expats from the United States or Europe. Those people have some pull with the Chinese government. And they will want their Google.cn.
So don’t expect Google to pull out any time soon. The threat to do so might be big enough to make a difference to the cosmopolitan business class. And that might be enough to make a difference to the government.
Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan suggests that we read Google’s Gatekeepers, a New York Times Magazine article from 2008 that looked in depth at the issue of Google and censorship.