Friday, January 27, 2006

Google, Free Speech, and China

Google's decision to kowtow to China's restrictions on how and what search results may be provided by Google is being discussed all over the blogosphere, especially at Pajamas Media. Pajamas Media has set up a special section devoted to commenting on companies that alter their policies and procedures in order to do business in China.

Some have taken to boycotting Google and switching to other search engines. Atlas Shrugs suggests divesting from Google over their position - particularly because Google is giving into a habitual human rights abuser.

Charles Johnson at LGF has a vivid example of what this means to Chinese searching for subject like Tiennamen Square. The US version shows the famous photo of the lone man standing in front of a row of tanks holding them at bay. The Chinese version is sanitized of all references to the demonstrations and crackdown against the dissidents. Marathon Pundit has additional examples.

Now, Google also happens to own Blogger, which makes me wonder just what exactly this means for the free speech rights of those who are using the platform for blogging. This might not get as much attention since more people use the search engine than the blogging platform. Blogger provides an outlet for speaking one's mind, and an individual or group can be as critical of individuals, groups, businesses, or government as one can imagine.

Yet, if China has imposed restrictions on the search engine, what's to say that they wont seek to further limit how Blogger operates - thereby limiting the free speech rights of Chinese people who've managed to get online and blog their experiences. Randy Thomas has similar thoughts and suggests switching to WordPress.

And other companies may follow suit and restrict their services or alter their policies and practices to suit China's totalitarian government. That isn't a good thing. If WordPress or Alta Vista want to do business in China, they may get the response that if they don't follow Google's example, they can't do business in China. So Google's decision (and that of Microsoft before that) does even greater harm because they've set the precedent for other companies. Companies that want to do business in the huge market that is China are going to have to make the tough decision of whether to give in to the government's demands or lose out on a huge market - and most businesses will choose the money over human rights ideals.

I can imagine that my coverage of the Songhua River disaster (starting with Shades of Chernobyl on 11/23/2005 and continuing with thirteen other postings ending with Pegging the BS Meter) would be censored by China - because I blame the Communists in charge of lying to the Chinese people over the severity of the incident, the cause of the incident, and the resulting long term damage to the environment.

Now I'm just a guy writing from New Jersey who happens to take human rights and free speech pretty seriously - and believe that human rights and free speech rights are universal and not just limited to those in countries like the United States. I get a couple hundred hits a day on my humble blog, which means that someone is reading what I'm writing for whatever reason. Now, if I can write something that affects a couple hundred people, imagine what stifling 1.3 billion Chinese people does. Even if a portion of those people decides to blog or use the Internet, their limited choices affects their worldview on a whole range of issues.

What is the loss in terms of cultural, social, political, and economic ideas because of a totalitarian government quashing dissenting viewpoints. It's incalculable.

Yet, this is the path that Google has chosen to go down. It is wrong. Stephen Green shares my view on the damage done by Google's actions.

UPDATE:
The following folks have added their voices of displeasure over Google's decision: Laurence Simon thinks Google is full of crap, Discarded Lies breaks out the tanks, MacRanger provides Google's explanation for what it's worth, Stuck on Stupid, RightWinged, Say Anything, Brainster, and The Political Teen.

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