After a round of hacking attempts that apparently were supported by the Chinese government, Google announced on Tuesday that they are removing the censored results displayed for a google.cn search in China. If you take a look now, you can see photos of the tanks in Tiananmen Square during the massacre 21 years ago. This violates the laws of China and Google will most likely be shut down by the Chinese government and exit the Chinese market.
Here in Hong Kong the local media is going crazy. Hong Kong, while part of China, is autonomous and has a free press. Bloggers, twitter, and some media outlets are applauding Google for “standing up to censorship.” (Google’s decision on Tuesday does not effect Hong Kong.)
This was a nice play by Google. They are removing the censorship and forcing the Chinese government to shut them down, which they may well do soon. It is a move that gets a lot of blog love. Former Microsoftie Robert Scoble said that China is so important economically and: “That’s why this move today impressed me so much.”
If Google has such problems with censorship and a corporate mission to and “don’t be evil” why did they agree to censorship in the first place when they entered China in 2006? Why would Google operate in China for four years while censoring their search results?
If Google was #1 in search in China and making boat loads of money, would they just pack up and leave? They are a business at the end of the day, so my bet is no. Google has not been making money in China and its revenues in China are “truly immaterial” according to Google. According to the Economist, Google has high expenses in China, including 700 people in the Google China office. Google is way behind Baidu in China, which has well over 300 million users (that is more than the entire population of the United States, the world’s third largest country by population…)
While I applaud Google for standing up to censorship, I feel that Google is exiting China due to business reasons and picked a fight with the Chinese government to get the automatic love of technology luminaries (who love Google anyway) and political rights activists who need a big powerful poster boy. If you think about it, it is a brilliant move, you hide the fact that you failed in a market and get tons of good press for poor business performance. Compare these headlines:
“Google exists China after years of poor performance. Fires 700 employees.”
“Google stands up to censorship! Google on the side of freedom and democracy. Love live Google!”
Maybe I am wrong and if I am, I apologize in advance.
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The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent
my employer's view in anyway.