If you were Google and you were faced with the possibility of losing your license to operate in the largest market on the planet AND you had to stay true to your commitment to not censor your results, what would you do? OK, that’s not a fair question since you aren’t Google but the NY Times tells us what they have done to preserve their ability to provide search services to their nemesis buddy China.
In an effort to appease Beijing as it seeks to renew its license to operate in mainland China, Google plans to stop automatically redirecting Chinese users to its Hong Kong site.
For the last three months, Google has found a clever way to overcome its ethical objections to self-censoring search results on its Web site for mainland China, google.cn. It has automatically redirected Chinese users to an uncensored search site, google.com.hk, maintained on the company’s servers in Hong Kong.
(David) Drummond (Google’s chief legal officer) wrote that in an effort to continue to serve Google’s Chinese users while placating the government, the company is proposing a compromise. In the next few days, it will stop automatically redirecting users to its Hong Kong site.
Instead, Chinese users will see a page at google.cn, which offers a single link to the Hong Kong site, where they can conduct searches or use other Google services, like translation and music, that require no filtering.
That sounds pretty clever if you think that the Chinese are asleep at the wheel and may be kind of stupid. Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan was quoted in the article saying
“If the Chinese government isn’t happy with them running uncensored search results out of the Hong Kong site — I don’t see why they’ll be any happier just because it becomes one click away,” Danny Sullivan, who runs the search-analysis Web site Search Engine Land, told Bloomberg News.
I suppose that stranger things have happened but it seems like this attempt by Google is, well, pretty lame. Their proposed compromise is just an ‘end around’ to keep the company breathing in this huge market that could represent considerable cash in the future despite China’s Baidu search engine having a sizable market share lead. Of course, just moving market share up a point or two in a market that size could mean significant dollars. In all of these years, have we known Google to turn away from a chance to make a buck or a billion or whatever?
While on principle this course of action seems a little disappointing you really can’t fault Google for trying. It’s just that when what you offer is as transparently gimpy as this choice that you have to wonder if the Chinese will take the bait. If they do then maybe we have overestimated their abilities.
What’s your take?