As many of you have heard, Google is considering leaving the Chinese market. Yes, that's right; they would leave behind 1 billion plus people in the biggest and fastest growing consumer market on the planet. Google has been threatening to take off because they believe the Chinese government has been hacking into their servers and stealing data. Also because of China's demands to provide info on political dissidents.
At first glance you would have to wonder what company could possibly give up the kind of future dough China represents - no matter how many times the Chinese government broke in. Hey, if my neighbor got drunk once in awhile and tried to break into my apartment to look around but most of the time he dropped ever increasing packages of money off on my doorstep I might be tempted to look the other way even leave the window open. Even if Google's CEO was forced to dance through Tienanmen square in a tutu every morning, it would, from a purely business standpoint, make sense to get that tutu on and get out there early. Whatever the hoops you were forced to jump through, you would have to be crazy to say no to the Chinese government's every whim. In this case their whim is using the data they steal to identify and arrest people who criticize the government online or publish ideas that the Chinese government does not like. But hey, who is perfect, right? They are also demanding that Google, Microsoft and others censor things the government finds objectionable and provide the government info on their users. But Google has amazingly stood up and made it clear they won't wear a tutu for anyone. What is so amazing about Google's stand is that in this anything-for-a-buck age, Google seems to be concerning itself with more than just money. It is refreshing and rare to see a company live up to the standards they claim to stand for. Google proudly holds itself to the standard of "Don't Be Evil" and it seems for now they are ready to walk the talk.
A year ago I was in Shanghai, and the city is poppin'! New stores, restaurants, hotels, and condos are sprouting like lotus flowers. The young people I spoke to are hyped to be part of the larger modern world and everyone I met was as in tune with what is going on in global popular culture as the average kid in the US--maybe even more because the hunger for information is that much greater. These kids are counting on Google to do the right thing in China and to demand freedom of information and protection for Google's users' privacy. Google has a unique chance to influence history--not with guns, but with information (or the refusal to be part of information suppression). Leaving China if need be would be a brave principled act that would do more for intellectual freedom than any other person or company has done in years. We are at a turning point in history. Are we going to protect all people who express themselves online, or just those who live in a country that allows free speech? The decision to make sure that we turn in the right direction has fallen to Google. What they do will set the standard for corporate interaction in China for years to come.
China has reached a position where their promised economic freedom (they have done an amazing job providing it to citizens) comes head to head with that other freedom people seem to want the world over: the freedom to express yourself without fear of beatings, death, or prison (sorry, the trolls aren't going anywhere). The pesky thing is the more economic freedom people have, the more they realize it is still kind of a bum deal if they need to keep their mouths shut, but can buy a Gucci wallet.
Google, you have shown some real balls and have stayed true to your principles. With Bing breathing down your neck globally, I think the tech influencers the world over will remain enthusiastically loyal to a company bad ass enough to tell the Chinese government to back the F off when other companies seem to be rolling over for them. Hey, maybe the Chinese government will actually calm down a bit and if you work it out. Drawing a line in the sand and doing it on your own terms will still send shock waves around the planet that will reverberate for years. You have a chance to be a hero to all who value freedom of ideas--and there are a lot of us, even in China. Keep on not being evil!
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