China: Is Google *Really* a Good Corporate Citizen?
You would have to be living in a cave over the last couple of months not to be aware of the battle between Google and China. Back in January, Google announced that they may pull out of the world’s largest Internet market — and that they would “stop censoring” search results, as is required by Chinese law.
“..the company shut down its censored mainland Chinese search engine, google.cn, and began redirecting Chinese-language search traffic to the uncensored google.com.hk.”
Let’s not start lauding Google as a good corporate citizen just yet. Sure, they have the right to pull out of China just like the Chinese believe that they have the right to censor what their netizens see. But if you take a closer look, you’ll see that Google badly trails the Chinese search engine, Baidu, plus in China, that the cash cow of Google, Ad Words, accounts for only four percent of their total revenue.
Pulling out may be a good decision for free speech, but when lauding the company’s stance, let’s remember that they are giving up only four cents on the dollar, and looking at an increasingly protectionist government creating and environment in which it will be harder for Google to grow.
As a point of comparison, I don’t see other companies pulling of out of China over human rights issues, for example. General Motors needs China Right now. So do most American car manufacturers. I am pretty sure that they will keep their heads down when the larger debate of human rights comes up when U.S. and Chinese officials plan to meet in May.
Is Google doing the “right thing?” Probably. But let’s not forget that they initially agreed to submit to censorship when their entered the Chinese market. It appears that the tipping point came when cyber attacks, originating in China, hacked into Google server, presumably attempting to access Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. Google had the “smoking gun” and/or excuse to threaten to stop censoring search results.
Enough was enough.
Does Google stand to lose a lot in a market that has disappointed them? Not so much. All of this reminds me of the scene in “Pulp Fiction” when Harvey Keitel tells John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson (after cleaning up Marvin’s brains all over the back of the Chevy Nova), “Gentlemen, let’s not start [blanking] each others’ [blanks] just yet.”
So before we go awarding to the Nobel Prize to Eric Schmidt, let’s look at the fact that a) Google has been censoring all along, and b) they stand to lose little when the pull out and get blocked by the Internet “Great Wall of China.”
Interesting CNN report below – from the Chinese perspective.