Did Google “win” or “lose” against the CCP?

A lot has been written in the past few days about who “won” in the conflict between Google and the Chinese Communist Party’s censorship. Many are taking the fact that Google doesn’t automatically redirect from its .cn page to google.com.hk as evidence for Google’s defeat – in that the choice to use Google’s Hong Kong site is now with the mainland Chinese users, rather than an automatic redirection.

Once in a while, more specific points are made. Dana Blankenhorn, with zdnet.com, wrote on Friday that Google’s compromise in the deal of renewing its Chinese operating license was that

[t]he Google.cn home page now offers only a link to its “uncensored” Hong Kong site, but those searches are easily traced and China’s firewall can then censor the results. Services other than search are still run out of China.

No Google user searching in the Chinese language can thus access information about anything the government decides, on its whim, the people should not know about. That was the government’s position all along. That position has been upheld.

But then, the conflict arose because Google didn’t want to censor itself. It can’t change the fact that the Chinese government censors the internet, and it never suggested that it could do that.

The issue who won or lost is important in many ways. In terms of freedom of information, China has lost. In terms of business, Google has lost. But a company can’t defeat government which isn’t under the rule of law. A company, in such a situation, can only fulfil its own policy. So far, Google seems to have done that. If other companies did likewise, this would amount to an impressive numbers of steps into the right direction. It’s a big difference if a company lives with a government’s dirty practise, or if it decides to do the dirty work on the government’s behalf.

2 Comments to “Did Google “win” or “lose” against the CCP?”

  1. Actually, upon visiting Google.cn, I would say the result is slightly in Google’s favor. While Google.cn no longer automatically redirects to Google Hong Kong, the Google.cn page effectively allows no local searching. The search box is just for show. Users must still go to Google Hong Kong if they wish to use the site. The passage that you cite notes that those searches can be traced. But those searches still could have been traced if Google had been automatically redirecting users. Additionally, while it is correct that Chinese users now have the choice to go to the HK site or not, I think that, by now, most users of Google.cn were aware that they were being redirected automatically anyway. Anyone objecting with this redirection would have switched to another search engine. So nothing has changed for Google, and the Google.cn site remains in the Chinese Internet as a constant reminder of the dispute.

    I believe that, if the Chinese government was truly able to enforce its will, Google’s license would have been revoked, and there would be no more Google.cn. But Google is simply too big and too admired for the Chinese government to show them the door, as long as Google is making some minor show of playing nice. Google got a much better deal than smaller companies in their position would have.

    As for the impact on Google’s business, people make way too much of a deal over the size of China’s market. I am too lazy to look up the statistic, but I remember reading that Google.cn contributed a very small percentage to Google’s business. I am guessing that there will be very little impact on Google in the long run.

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  2. Given that many foreign – or European, anyway – companies complain about being put at disadvantage by Chinese authorities, Google’s loss in case of leaving China may not be too big. But I’m not too sure about how the Chinese public will see Google in a few years. On the internet, I’ve seen many English-speaking Chinese praising the June-4 massacre, or showing “understanding”.

    But magnus.de, a German computer magazine’s website, would agree that the license renewal marks a small victory against censorship in China.
    “Last week, Google (China) ended the automatic redirection (to google.com.hk) – probably a concession to save the license. Some observers had, however, doubted that this would be enough to mollify Beijing. After all, little changes for the users: now, the Chinese only need to click a link to arrive at the Hong Kong website.”

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