In the last 24 hours, quite a bit of information has been spreading about Google’s decision to end their censoring of searches in China, and potentially cease their business operations entirely with that country. The precipitator for this decision appears to be cyber-attacks on Google, including GMail accounts, mostly related to the emails of human rights advocates focused on conditions in China. But what does this all really mean? Is Google living up to “Don’t Be Evil”, or are they just making a pragmatic business decision in an environment that was hostile long before any attacks took place?
The Wall Street Journal looked at the situation as a heavily pragmatic one, from the perspective of whether this could affect Google, and whether this is a boost to their rivals. Google is #2 in China, behind Baidu.com, but it is a distant second. In fact, the Wall Street Journal indicated they were not convinced there would be a direct impact on Google. If nothing else, they are breaking a precedent that working with China is worth the stringent requirements. Unfortunately, many chinese citizens are far more upset, as it leaves them with the distinct possibility of stricter censorship on the remaining players. It also has the potential to affect Android in China, where it was beginning to gain traction.
Techcrunch also came down on the side of pragmatism. Their take is that Google wasn’t doing well in China to begin with, and they are jumping on opportunity to look like the good guys even as there’s a Google-sized hole in the door. Techcrunch had a few good points, but their most interesting one was that Google wasn’t negotiating; they knew fully well this was ending their Chinese relationships, at least as they stand right now. Also fascinating: TC points out that Yahoo saw that China wasn’t going to profitable and only has indirect exposure through their partial ownership of Alibaba. Incidentally, Techcrunch is also reporting that Google has now reset GMail to default to secure connections, so if you hate how slow https is you need to manually opt out. While this wouldn’t stop a determined espionage team, it is a “feel good” move so GMail does not look so bad in this mess.
Finally, one more perspective only because they certainly looked at it from their own unique angle: Teleread weighed in with their concerns on what Google and the fallout from this might be doing to the future of ebooks. In addition to concerns about the future of Google Books scanning Chinese authors (My magic 8 ball says the outcome is murky), they raise concerns about the relationship between Chinese manufacturers and ebook readers, as well as the future market for ebooks in China. Personally, I think that money talks, and concern about getting Chinese input on ebook readers is probably overblown. Apparently, though, some of the compromised information was obtained using a security hole in Adobe products; once again, it just means be careful when opening any attachments, even if you aren’t a sworn enemy of the Chinese government.
Personally, I think this was a business decision filling wrapped in a “Don’t be evil” whole wheat wrap for guilt free consumption. Google gets a way to walk away from what looks on the surface like a huge market without looking stupid. Not only that, they get everyone from news outlets to Secretary of State Clinton praising them for it. It’s not often that a company gets to wipe the slate clean on a controversial decision (agreeing to censor searches in China), walk away from a non-growth business, and look like heroes doing it. Whether they truly intended to be altruistic and take a stand, or they finally felt the cost of doing business with China was just too high, Google makes out like a bandit for it. Too bad the 338 million internet users in China may not benefit, a story that seems somewhat lost in the basking of Google’s decision.