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NP editorial: Memo to Google — get out of China

Posted by Author on March 16, 2010

NP Editor, The National Post, Canada, Mar. 16, 2010-

As of press time, we were still waiting for final resolution of the escalating, months-old confrontation between Google and the government of China. Our hope is that the world-leading web-search company plays hardball with Beijing — even if that means exiting China entirely.

Countless companies run into headaches in China, a country whose booming free-market economy often bumps up against the pronouncements of its authoritarian government. But the friction has been especially notable in the case of Google, which controls almost one-third of China’s web search market. The company is a world-leading icon of the free flow of information, and it has been jarring to see it submit itself to the Chinese government’s censorship demands. Search for “Chinese human rights abuses” or “Dalai Lama” off of Google.com, and you will get a long list of unfiltered search results. Perform the same search on Google.cn — or any of the portals featuring a Chinese Google search box — and you will get a much shorter list.

The moral case for Google saying goodbye to China is obvious: The company’s informal motto is, after all, “Don’t be evil.” But there is a strong business case for fleeing the Communist nation, as well. In recent months, Google has learned of a campaign to hack the Google Mail (i.e. Gmail) accounts of human rights activists. At the same time, the U.S. government and various Western high-tech corporations are fighting off a massive, well-organized campaign of electronic attacks and espionage, much of it based on Chinese servers. In both instances, the driving force is believed to be the Chinese government, or elements connected to it.

Google’s share of the Chinese market — the world’s biggest — is obviously a major asset. But more important is Google’s good name in the rest of the world. Like everyone else, we love Google’s search service, Gmail and its growing cloud-computing services. But there are other competing providers in all these areas — so why would we trust our data with a company seen to be bending over backward for a foreign government that combines Communist anti-Western phobias with the sleazy ethos of a backroom phishing operation?

Google itself is no doubt trustworthy. But companies, like people, are known by the company they keep.

The National Post

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