Google for good…or just for money?

Google’s recent opposition to Internet censorship in China went wildly underreported in Thailand. Yet this move to seize the moral high ground has vast implications to Thailand and every other censorship nation. The world’s censors have been put on notice by a company worth five billion dollars, more than many governments.

Google’s unprecedented declaration that this corporate giant would no longer censor its Internet search results in China had a great measure of shock-and-awe. Google created some major spin, some wow-factor. What is especially striking is that a huge corporation would commit itself to embarking on a campaign of civil disobedience, of speaking truth to power.

Google’s actual announcement, through chief legal officer David Drummond, was that it would “phase out” its search censorship in China. Now, we really don’t know how that might be possible—you either censor or you don’t.

Since FACT’s inception in 2006, through Thailand’s military coup’s seven-month YouTube block up to the present day, Google has failed to be responsive to FACT’s concerns over Google’s censorship in Thailand. FACT’s every email, to many individuals throughout its corporate structure, has gone without reply.

In stating Google would stop its censorship in China, Google means it will continue to censor all the rest of us in every country. We find this hypocritical, to say the least.

Google created the technical marvel of geolocational blocking by country at the behest of Thailand’s military coup government in order to become unblocked here. Since that time Google has implemented geolocational blocking in all other countries to protect their “national security interests” and to shield netizens from “culturally sensitive topics”. How very thoughtful.

China’s overwhelmingly youthful population has reached over 1.4 billion people, 384 million of whom use the Internet. That’s 36.5% Internet penetration, an impressive figure in itself. For any company, China is an enormous market.

But the simple fact is that the Chinese use Chinese search engines, buy their swag from Chinese websites, social network on Chinese sites, and so on, with never a thought of the Western Internet giants. This conundrum, at least in the rest of the world, is fueled both culturally and linguistically. English may be the world’s lingua franca but China speaks only Chinese.

That means Google’s real losses in China may be minimal. It seems reasonable that Google simply did not have the effective business model in China that they implement in the rest of the world. Chinese just don’t click on Google’s ads.

Every netizen in the world interacts, if only in a minimal way, with Google. Even if an Internet user eschews Google’s search engine, Gmail, Google Talk, Google Voice, Google News, Google Docs, Google Scholar, Google Maps, Google Earth, Google Books, and has not installed Google’s DNS, others you contact do and therefore your habits are known to Google.

Google’s business model is predicated on knowing the habits of every Internet user, to sell you stuff. Whether you like it or not, Google logs your searches, copies your email, records your contacts’ names and addresses, logs your chat sessions, records your phone calls, knows where you get your news and what topics are important to you, copies your documents, checks your research, knows where you’ve been, knows where you are, what you like to read and now follows you to every website. Google is a company that has no regard or concern whatsoever for your personal privacy. Google Sky, Google Moon and Google Mars might be safe…maybe. Most of us simply exchange our privacy for the convenience of using Google everything.

So when Google says, no censorship in China…or else, we cock precisely one eyebrow. Do no evil, petabyte server Google has a hidden agenda here. It’s not about an affront to corporate secrecy by the (widely-presumed to be) Chinese government hack of Google’s Gmail accounts for Chinese human rights activists. Get real: that’s just for show. Nor do they care much about the other 31 US corporations the Chinese government hacked.

The sad truth is that Google simply doesn’t have so much to lose in China. And they can always climb back into bed with China once this tiff is over and the world’s netizens have largely forgotten. Both sides, government and corporations just have their eyes on the money.

Let’s look at Google’s role as world leader as an inspiration to others. Do we really think other corporations will endanger their shareholders’ profit margins by supporting Google? If you think so, I can get you a great deal on the Rama VIII bridge!

Google has done exactly nothing in China to support human rights, free speech or a free press, including the citizen press, in China or, for that matter, in any other country. It has reliably failed to support or link any means for circumvention of China’s censorship to Chinese netizens such as TOR or Psiphon. Google hasn’t even created free proxies. That means we’re still standing in the cold whistling.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had long prepared her January 21 speech on defending Internet freedoms before Google’s announcement. However, the US’ new commitment against censorship (they are so far just talking the talk not walking the walk) may, in fact, call Google’s bluff. If they want to be an American company, then they may just have to toe the current administration’s line.

Google is megabucks, business acumen and engineering expertise, the best money can buy. Google is both huge and hugely successful almost everywhere.

If Google were to make the declaration that they were stopping censorship everywhere, including Thailand, we’d be their biggest fans. Hell, we’d buy stock!

It has been obvious Google has been setting about creating its own corporate vision of the Internet, through sheer might and money. But if Google really cares about ‘net freedoms, it will devote a miniscule portion of its enormous resource of brainpower to making the Internet uncensorable anywhere.

FACT welcomes Google’s announcement it will stop supporting censorship in Thailand.


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