Google Inc.’s defiance of China’s censorship rules resulted in the world’s most popular search engine being pulled out of the country 12 months ago. This year, the dispute may be spilling over to Gmail and maps.
As of yesterday, China’s State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping hadn’t received an application from Google to keep offering its service, as required under regulations announced in May, according to Kou Jingwei, the bureau’s spokesman. Jessica Powell, a Google spokeswoman, declined to comment on whether the company has applied. The deadline is tomorrow.
There is quite a bit at stake for Google if they ever truly had eyes on China as a growth market. They have redirected Chinese searchers to a Hong Kong site after shutting down Google.cn in response to the Chinese government’s stringent censorship policies. Now they stand to lose their mapping services as well. Gmail has been a bit of a pawn in this high stakes game as well as Google claims the Chinese government has blocked the service while the Chinese blamed its troubles on Google’s technology.
All in all it’s a tough position for Google to be in. The world watches to see if one of the most recognized brands on the planet will stand up and stick to its position that it won’t do business the Chinese way. Meanwhile, shareholders in Google look at the mountain of money that might be had if they were to ‘play along’. Add to this the fact that Baidu is the leading Chinese search engine by a considerable margin and you have a situation that Google is quite unaccustomed to. It’s not in a dominant position. As a result, the world will watch how they react very closely.
Right now, it doesn’t appear as if Google and the Chinese are going to see eye to eye anytime soon especially considering the use of the Internet to create revolution and unrest in many regions of the world. The business factors could just be an excuse to keep Google out of the country for what they might perceive as an even bigger threat.
The latest clash shows the government hasn’t forgiven the Google’s decision to halt compliance with censorship rules on Internet searches, said Christopher Tang, a professor of business administration at UCLA.
“Google faces major problems within China,” Tang said. “Unless Google is going to change the way they operate, unless they are willing to apologize to the Chinese government, unless they are willing to cooperate with the Chinese government to impose censorship according to the wishes of the Chinese government. Otherwise, there’s no deal.”
It’s not like Google needs the cash. But do they need the market to cement their position as the number one search option for the world or will they just need to walk away (or be forced to walk away) because they have taken the moral high ground?
This is going to be interesting to watch because it will be more of an examination of Google’s heart vs. their business needs. Which one wins may tell us a lot about what Google really is.