The Google-China drama

Mykl Roventine
Can't imagine the Chinese government commissioned to have this sign made.

I always find it impressive when someone creates a really convincing knock-off. Well, besides the immoral issues behind it. Goojje is the recent knock-off of Google in China. You can read more about it in some slightly disturbing Chinese-style English here.

Goojje was created by a small Chinese group after Google recently announced it was considering withdrawing from China. Why? Well, according to a post by David Drummond published in the official Google blog on January 12, in mid-December 2009, they noticed that a very sophisticated hacking job was being pulled on Google. The attack originated in China and it resulted in intellectual theft from Google. Soon they realized the attack went much further than that.

At least 20 other large companies were attacked besides Google. It seems that Chinese human rights activists with Gmail accounts were specifically targeted as well. And, from the investigations being conducted since the attack, it has been discovered that Gmail users in the U.S., China and Europe have had third parties tapping into their accounts on a regular basis. All the accounts being violated belong to advocates of human rights in China.

Google strongly suspects that the culprit behind all of these attacks is the Chinese government. Oh, China, what a great country. All about human rights, right? Well, no.

I can definitely see how this just might be a huge straw that breaks the camel’s back. But the question is, which camel’s back is it breaking? The camel who cares too much about human rights to continue cooperating with such a problematic government? Or is it the camel who loves money and sees this as an opportunity to back away from a market which might be too difficult to navigate in this case. Maybe communist China ain’t no place for an American search engine. Of course that’s besides the fact that it is the country with the most internet users right now. I doubt Google CEO Eric Schmidt is getting much sleep when he thinks about that.

But here’s a little (or huge) catch. Those of us from the Western world automatically think Google when we think search engines. But actually, in China, there is a search engine that is a huge competitor against the Chinese Google.

Baidu.com is a very large company which, as opposed to Google, originates in China. It provides a wide range of services to Chinese users online. In December 2007 Baidu became the first Chinese company to be included in the NASDAQ-100 index. Baidu, at least on the outside, seems to have an easier time accepting the censorship of the government than Google. So maybe Google isn’t all about the human rights issue but has something to gain monetarily from pulling out, or at least threatening to pull out, of China.

In January 2006, when Google launched Google.cn, the Chinese version, it had to be a customized search engine for China which censors out politically sensitive topics and websites from the results. In the aforementioned Google blog post,  Drummond wrote:

We launched Google.cn in January 2006 in the belief that the benefits of increased access to information for people in China and a more open Internet outweighed our discomfort in agreeing to censor some results.

Sounds almost convincing. They were willing to put up with the very problematic censorship because they felt the gain to the people of China outweighed the moral issues. But now it might be time to reevaluate.

This mega-attack has been the potential last straw of a certain camel’s back – we’re not sure which one yet. Right now we all just get to watch as an enormous U.S. company has a duel with a not too shabby country with, I will repeat, the highest number of internet users in the world.

Good luck to you both. And may the best man win.

Photo by Mykl Roventine on flickr.

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