Ever since Google first began its threats to leave China (which they finally made good on this week), it’s seemed like a bit of a logical leap to see what a hack attack had to do with the country’s government-mandated censorship—something Google agreed to when it entered the market in 2006.
But the hackers—and their target—were just one piece of the puzzle, according to an Atlantic interview with Google’s Chief Legal Officer, David Drummond. Although Google has survived dozens of hacking attempts, the targets of this particular attempt were all political activists (emphasis added):
That was distasteful to us. It seemed to us that this was all part of an overall system bent on suppressing expression, whether it was by controlling internet search results or trying to surveil activists. It is all part of the same repressive program, from our point of view. We felt that we were being part of that.
That was the direct connection with the hacking incident. It wasn’t in isolation. Since the Beijing Olympics, our experience in China has gotten worse. Although we have gained market share, it has become more and more difficult for us to operate there. Particularly when it comes to censorship. We have had to censor more. More and more pressure has been put on us. It has gotten appreciably worse — and not just for us, for other internet companies too.
Says Drummond, “We thought when we went in that we could help to open the country and things could get better by our being there.” However, Drummond says they don’t understand why people seem to think this is an all-or-nothing proposition.
Google Blogoscoped, however, has a good answer:
Google shouldn’t wonder too much that people saw it as all or nothing – that’s how they themselves suggested the situation in was China when they announced why they would start to self-censor Chinese web search in 2006: “Filtering our search results clearly compromises our mission. Failing to offer Google search at all to a fifth of the world’s population, however, does so far more severely. Whether our critics agree with our decision or not, due to the severe quality problems faced by users trying to access Google.com from within China, this is precisely the choice we believe we faced.” In other words, Google said they were facing a choice between no Google search at all for Chinese users, or a filtered search.
Meanwhile, China hasn’t yet reacted to Google’s decision to redirect google.cn to google.com.hk (the Hong Kong version). Still, Google’s efforts are being lauded in the US Congress (and Microsoft is getting slammed), even though their efforts may really only be half-measures, as Danny Sullivan says.
But that’s good enough for some other Internet companies. The domain registrar GoDaddy has announced that they’ll no longer sell .cn domains. Says the WSJ, “The reason: New regulations from China that require domain registration companies like hers to turn over to the government a color image of ID documents, a business license and a signed physical contract for each registered domain.”
The WSJ reports that China accounts for 1% of GoDaddy’s market. But still—if Google’s getting praise from Congress (um, have you seen their approval rating lately? Is that actually a good thing?), maybe now is as good a time as any to drop 1% of your market and get ahead in the US.
What do you think? What will happen with Google, GoDaddy and China? Who will be the next to jump on the bandwagon out of China?