Google has agreed to censor their search result in China in exchange for better access to the rapidly growing Chinese market. Both Yahoo and MSN have already made similar concessions for access as well, but what makes Google’s deal considerably more interesting is Google’s own stated motto and mission.
Don’t Be Evil
From the beginning Google has used the motto, “don’t be evil.” That’s a great motto, if only Google strives to achieve it. Put aside for a moment recent moves made by Google which has caused a growing chorus of concern, there are few, especially the people who live under such regimes, who do not believe communism to be a force of evil in this world. We know that communists governments, as a matter of routine, inhibit individual liberty and freedom, keeping their people under a very heavy hand. It may seem like a simple and nor issue to censor search results, but when such censorship includes the suppression of historical facts or views contrary to the beliefs of the government, Google is effectively, via its own passivity for access, preventing the Chinese people from having access to full and complete truths (or at least varied opinions of the truth.)
Let’s put it this way. Because the paragraph above is critical of communist governments, this blog post will be censored on Google China!
Although China has loosened some of its controls in recent years, some topics, such as Taiwan’s independence and 1989’s Tiananmen Square massacre, remain forbidden subjects.
Google officials characterized the censorship concessions in China as an excruciating decision for a company that adopted “don’t be evil” as a motto. But management believes it’s a worthwhile sacrifice.
Some might call this a sacrifice in blood from the Chinese people who have have been killed or imprisoned simply for trying to live a life of freedom forbidden them by their government.
Organize and Make Accessible
According to their website, Google’s mission is to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” I’m having a difficult time seeing how this move by Google complies with their mission in any way. Is this deal with China allowing Google access to documents that it otherwise would not have? Is there something more to this deal that we’re not seeing or hearing about? What is Google gaining to this end by entering the Chinese market?
What about the latter part of the mission… making the information universally accessible? It seems to me that censoring information returned in search results goes against this principle quite strongly. Through this deal considerable portions of Google’s catalogue of information will not be available to the Chinese, meaning the information in Googles database will NOT be universally available to them, nor will certain search results be particularly useful in the grander sense.
So if Google’s move into China does not conform to their motto and does nothing to advance their mission, my question is; why do it? The simple answer is profits.
Are profit an adequate motivation? For most companies profits are the primary motivation for doing anything, so long as laws and ethical principles are not being violated. Google may have no ethical qualms about censoring their information in China, but they might want to reconsider amending their mission to be slightly less untruthful. My suggestion: To profit from organizing the world’s information and make it as accessible and useful as possible to that end.