Google has to walk an interesting line at times. It needs to keep itself at arms length from government scrutiny and activity but at the same time needs to be close enough to call on governments (as in worldwide) for assistance.
That is certainly the case as Google looks to the US government and European government for help in addressing Internet censorship in China. Google’s woes in China have been well documented and it is one of the rare moments where Google appeared to walked away from a fight. What might have really happened is that they just stepped back to regroup as The Canadian Press reports:
Google Inc.’s top lawyer said Wednesday that the world’s leading search engine is asking the U.S. and European governments to press China to lift Internet censorship, describing it as an unfair barrier to free trade.
David Drummond told reporters that western states should defend the free trade in information with the same kind of rules that they use to complain of China’s below-cost sale of products.
He said government talks are “the only way that it’s going to change, that this tide of censorship or this rising censorship is going to be arrested.”
Interesting talk coming from Google but it makes sense to take this approach. Even a company like Google is probably ill equipped to handle taking on the Chinese government on such an issue. Better to let the diplomats take care of this so now Google can stay at arm’s length and not do anything that would set off an international issue.
Since being attacked by Chinese hackers that were seeking the Gmail accounts of human rights activists Google has been careful in its talk around China.
Since late March, Google has been redirecting search requests from mainland China to Hong Kong, which doesn’t have the same restrictions.
“The cyber attack was sort of the final straw because we felt that it was increasingly hard to do business there in accordance with our values,” Drummond said, describing the company as in danger of becoming “part of the same apparatus” of Chinese state censorship.
“Censorship, in addition to being a human rights problem, is a trade barrier,” he said. “If you look at what China does — the censorship, of course, is for political purposes but it is also used as a way of keeping multinational companies disadvantaged in the market.”
“It should be obvious that the Internet sector is very important to the west and so we should be working on seeing that that kind of trade is protected,” he said.
Apparently some support is being offered by the French, German and US governments already, but this is likely to be an ongoing issue for some time to come. If Rome wasn’t built in a day then censorship in China certainly won’t disappear quickly (if ever).