Ryan Tate at Valleywag wrote an uncharacteristically positive opening line to a post today: “Google is putting its profits and growth on the line to stand up to China’s [sic] authoritartian practices.”
Are they really, though?
Nick Douglas over at Lalawag (former Valleywagger, incidentally) challenges the critical thinking on this topic by challenging our capacity for critical thinking:
Let’s do some very basic critical thinking. Most of you already know this shit, that’s why you read Lalawag and not Scripting News. But just in case someone stumbles over here from Techmeme-land:
Google’s decision to offer censored service in China was a painful one. The company has demonstrated regularly that they honestly believe in the freedom of information. They don’t want to free information because it makes them money; they make money because they want to free information. Thus Google Books, Google Maps, the evolution of the search results themselves (say the ads on a certain search don’t load as quickly as the results: sometimes that’s why you don’t see ads on a page. Google won’t slow down your load time to give you ads).
Steven Hodson and Sean P. Aune both tackled this issue adeptly last night on CobWEBs, but I thought I’d impart my two cents as well, since folks like Nick seem to be responding to the criticism. The problem is that Nick Douglas casually glosses over the horrendous record Google has had over the years with censorship themselves, particularly in the YouTube division, and particularly in oppressed nations. I have a list I started back in my Mashable days that I trot out for instances like this … after I showed how YouTube continued to censor oppressed Iranian demonstrators after the whole #IranElection thing, I stopped updating it as much, since it showed to me they truly could give a flip about freedom of speech anymore. For the record, here it is:
– SMCB: Google Won’t Help Authorities Prosecute Pedophilia
– More Hypocritical YouTube Censorship
– YouTube Censors Egyptian Police Brutality
– Google: We Won’t Censor Anti-Semitism
– Lieberman and bin Laden Get It; Why Doesn’t YouTube?
– Terrorists No Longer Invited to Broadcast Themselves
– YouTube: Broadcast Terrorism Yourself
– Israel’s Shin Bet Warns of Arab Terror Recruiting on Facebook
– Michelle Malkin: Censored for promoting hate speech, when she created a music montage showing victims of Muslim terrorist attacks in response to the Muhammed riots.
– BumFights: Uncensored. Videos of actual homeless folks paid in sandwiches for beating the crap out of one another.
– Handsome Hong Kong Guy Censored for showing videos of clothed local females with derogatory towards women music in the background.
– This Pornography Advertisement Uncensored. It doesn’t show actual nudity or sex acts [Editor’s Note: was removed about six months after initial publication on Mashable. There are plenty more like it. – mrh].
– A Breast-Feeding Mother Censored over obscenity claims.
– This Strip Tease Uncensored. A small area over the genitals remains covered for the duration of the minute and a half long strip tease [Editor’s Note: was removed about three months after initial publication on Mashable. There are plenty more like it. – mrh].
– An Egyptian Fellow Censored (then uncensored) for showing video evidence of local police brutality.
– This GTA IV Ad Uncensored, despite depicting a police officer firing a gun into a crowd of civilians.
There’s more – much more – in my personal archive. I should probably update that at some point or write a book on it (and now may be the time) … the truth is that this is something I’ve followed for quite some time, and when I hear all this positive press about Google not being evil, I have to stifle laughter.
Yes, there was a time four years ago when I believed it, when I talked to my Google friends who were all very passionate (and detailed!) in how they’re engineering systems to be subpoena proof, protecting the identities of their users. When I saw them cavalierly turning over identities of lowly blog commenters to lower courts and caving to inconsequential governments like Egypt’s demands for censorship, I had to really re-examine what I’d come to believe about the company.
Nick Douglas poses a what-if situation in the same post:
So what would have happened if Google wasn’t censoring in China in the first place? They wouldn’t be in China at all. China would have just let Baidu dominate the country’s searches. And Baidu has a history of collaboration with the government. So do its Chinese competitors. Even Yahoo has a dark history of cooperating with Chinese authorities and turning in dissidents.
I don’t buy it. You’re telling me a company as “defiantly not-evil” as Google doesn’t have the engineering acumen to find a way to defeat or fight back against filtering systems in China? There’s no way to come up with a way to deliver the message to the people? Nothing? I mean I personally know a group of about 30 members of 2600 and people at the freakin’ NSA that have done more for free speech in China than Google has.
You shouldn’t buy it either. This a petty move of “we’re taking our ball and going home,” since the most likely culprit here is the Chinese government, and this is the only thing Google can do to lash out at them (“you violate us? we’ll violate your rules. deal!”). Google is being a petulant child of an abusive parent here, but a child who knew how abusive the parent was and decided to live with them despite it.
I have very little sympathy for anyone in this situation aside from the oppressed Chinese (and oppressed and distressed citizens worldwide), who’ve been the real losers for many years now, not only at the hands of a malevolent government but a complicit US-based tech industry.
See Our Other Coverage Today on Google and China
War Against The West – Google China Situation
Google Pulls a Conan O’Brien, Would Rather Close Down Search than Censor
Google is Right: China is Not a Developing Country
So We’re All Supposed to Believe Google Finally Developed a Conscience? [The Dissenting Opinion]