The Google vs. China dispute is being played out in the media like a geo-political chess game. When a representative from either side makes a public statement or announces a course of action, the other is faced with the immediate burden of reacting, analyzing, and projecting within a reasonable time frame to fit their message into the half-life of a story in the 24/7 media. The conflict between Google Inc. and China over censorship issues has now spanned three months and consists of three main issues: alleged privacy rights violations, international trade challenges caused by governmental censorship, and the imminence of several lawsuits coming from all directions.
The conflict reached a new pinnacle of escalation when Google officially announced that it would withdraw from the Chinese market. Chinese visitors to Google.cn were redirected to Google.com.hk, the Hong Kong version, which offers unfiltered search results (Al Jazeera 3/24/10). This aggressive tactic was responded to with serious force from the Chinese Communist party who wrote in the People’s Daily,
“For Chinese people, Google is not god, and even if it puts on a full-on show about politics and values, it is still not god. In fact, Google is not a virgin when it comes to values. Its cooperation and collusion with the U.S. intelligence and security agencies is well-known.” (NY Times 3/23/10)
Cofounder, Sergey Brin, admitted that he had a change of heart about the deal with Google that started around the Beijing Olympics. Brin told the Wall Street Journal,
“China has made great strides against poverty and whatnot, but nevertheless, in some aspects of their policy, particularly with respect to censorship, with respect to surveillance of dissidents, I see the same earmarks of totalitarianism, and I find that personally quite troubling” (Wall Street Journal 3/24/10).
Google’s stock dropped after the announcement and now run the gamut of losing ad revenue from Chinese companies, mobile users, and the success of their android phones on the Chinese market. Their commitment to stand up against China’s domestic censorship policy has led them to bring the battle home to the states.
After announcing it will be pulling out of China, Google Inc. came back to the joint Congressional hearings with a new, more ideological message. Top Google Executives, including Sergey Brin, expanded their position by calling for the United States to consider withholding foreign aid to any country that censors its internet services. Alan Davidson, director of public policy for Google, explained that over 40 countries restrict their Internet and 25 have blocked Google entirely. He said
“the growing problem for Internet censorship is not isolated to one country or one region…No single company and no single industry can tackle Internet censorship on its own” (NY Times 3/24/10).
Google Inc.’s policy suggestion to the U.S. builds upon its request for a WTO case by calling on countries to pledge to provide unfiltered Internet access, which would open the United States up to criticism of hypocrisy for its own online strategic censorship. An opinion piece in the China Daily reported that
Google wants its Chinese website to include harmful pornographic, anti-China separatists and subversive information so that this information is spread to 1.3 billion Chinese citizens, something that Chinese government intentionally and consciously wants to limit. The US government will in no way allow anti-US such as Al-Qaida and domestic and international Muslim extremist websites to be searchable by US citizens (China Daily 3/22/10).
The joint Congressional session failed to mediate the Google-China conflict, garnering praise for the company from many Congressmen and Obama Administration Officials. Senator Bryon Dorgan said,
“Information is not to be feared, and ideas are not enemies to be crushed. The truth is China too often wants a one-way relationship with the world” (NY Times 3/24/10).
Davidson announced that Google will attempt to reenter the Chinese market once domestic censorship laws are adapted to allow online freedom and violations of Chinese privacy rights are regulated.