Archive for February 14th, 2006

Re Google in China: Beware of convoluted explanations for transparently self-serving behavior.

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The wise old Chinese sage says: 

Beware of convoluted explanations for transparently self-serving behavior.

Translation for today:

When Google says it is promoting freedom and democracy by extending its
business in China while censoring out references to freedom and
democracy–and to the Dalai Lama, by the way–beware.

In my own experience Occams razor holds for virtue, too.

In business they sometimes call this “passing the red face test.”

Technical post script:

Google says that the reason it wants servers in China is to give its
users a better experience-translated as “faster.”  Why didn’t it
instead invest in Satellite downloads, servers ringing china, and
working with activists to set up informal networks of proxy-servers,
just as the p2p music sites do?  Hey, Google COULD have done good
with its money.

Do you want the real reason Google is in China?  Read on..

What Google can not do in China,
without partnering with  the government and censoring its content,
is sell advertising.  In my own discussions with Google folks last
year, what I heard was
that the only way to expand the Google advertising business into China
was to set up a Chinese subsidiary and have Chinese servers.  Yup,
I really really don’t believe Google was most concerned about download
speeds. Google was concerned about ad revenues and being able to sell
ads to Chinese businesses.

Again, beware of convoluted explanations.

Why Google GETTING AWAY WITH EVIL is especially evil

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Some say that while Google censoring words like “democracy” in its
Chinese search service is clearly counter to democratic values, Google
is no worse than other tech companies who are helping censoring in
China. 

Well, on that I agree.  On the other hand, Google GETTING AWAY
WITH EVIL does strike me as worse. You see, Google is a company that
says it does not do evil.  Thus it has a great deal of trouble
with the idea that what it is doing in China is anything other than
good.  Google does not think that it is guilty.  Google
thinks it is being virtuous. Google argues that it is “promoting
freedom” by offering a censored version of its service.  Hmmmm.

Peter Gomes (Havard Chaplain) asks, “What is worse, and excess of vice,
or an excess of virtue?”  His own counter-intuitive answer is that
an excess of (mistaken) virtue is much much worse, because it has not
built-in limiting impulse.  Nazis had an excess of (their own
deluded intretation of) virtue.

There is an even stronger, darker way to see the Google
situation.  Maybe Google was always a “business” in the narrow
sense, but exploited our idealism.  Maybe Google never intended it
would “not do evil” as you and me understand it.  Maybe it said it
would not do Evil ™ as it chose to define it.  I once took a
course in “Non-manipulative ™ selling.”  It was just as you
might suspect. 🙂

Google has also gotten a lot of good press over the years, and a lot of traffic and
participation, because many folks on the web are idealistic enough to
favor a company that seems to want to do good.  Does Google deserve
this boost?  Did it ever?

My favorite post on the Google situation is this by Dave Winer.

02.01.06

It’s just business

Posted in Google, Paranoia at 6:37 pm by Dave Winer

Maybe there’s more to the Google-China story than first meets the eye.

I first learned that Google is a business run by business people when, a few weeks after buying Blogger in 2003, they added a Blog This button to their toolbar. They could have used the open API
we had labored to achieve in the blogging world, and then users could
have configured the toolbar to work with any blogging tool. No one
would have begrudged Google the right to make Blogger the default, but
to hard-code it so that it only worked with Blogger, when there was a
perfectly good API they could have used instead? That clued me in.
These guys are here to make money, and given a choice between doing
something clearly good for the Internet (using an open API), they chose
not to do it, because it might have meant less of a table-tilt for
their own blogging tool. And all this happened just weeks after they
promised not to do anything to tilt the table in favor of Blogger. So
much for promises.

I’ve been around Silicon Valley long enough to know what this meant.
It’s just business. And when China said Google had to censor or be shut
out of the Chinese market, they did the sensible business thing, they
said okay. This of course is not a problem for Americans, because these
rules don’t apply to us, but wait a minute, think it over, maybe they
do.

What if

Fast-forward a few years. The Chinese economy is strong, and thanks
to all the debt we’ve piled up, and our inefficient work force here in
the US, we’re unemployed and they’re working. The Chinese now hold the
cards, and they’re concerned that their populace will want the freedoms
Americans have. So they agree to keep funding our debt, but with a
condition — the US government must enact a law making the Chinese
censorship rules apply in the US. If you do it, we don’t call in the
loans. If you don’t, start paying the interest and get ready to pay the
principle.

Think it can’t happen? Get your head out of the box and read the
news. It’s already starting. Now the question is, is it just Google
that’s Just a Business, or the whole world? Did our government take a
pledge not to be evil (yes, that’s basically what the Constitution
says) and assuming they did, did they mean it? (Not this government.)

We always say we’re exporting our way of life to the Chinese, but to me that seems as naive as the expected peace dividend people were talking about at the end of the Cold War.

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