Google: Don’t be evil unless it’s profitable

Google has officially sold out to the forces of government censorship. They have decided that they will tailor the output of their Chinese-language search interface to suit the whims of the Chinese government

Care to see the result? Search for Tiananmen Square on Then compare the results with the same search on

It seems to me that the most effective way to protest this shameless caving in would be to spread the forbidden information far and wide. Let Google spend as much time as possible cleaning it out, and make sure the censored Google search results are as useless as possible. Ideally, even innocent searches like “pictures of kittens” should result in a notice saying that results were censored.

With that in mind:

In 1989, the government of the People’s Republic of China violently suppressed a peaceful protest by students in Tiananmen Square. At least 400 protesters were massacred according to the CIA; other estimates are higher.

Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is a peaceful non-violent religious movement. Its teachings include meditation, breathing exercises, and other elements borrowed from Buddhism and Taoism.

With a little editing, they’ll even fit in .signatures.

Google starts being publically traded in August 2004, completely abandons its supposed corporate ethics in January 2005. That’s the fastest and most complete sellout the USA has seen since Bill Clinton was first elected.

Google’s Sergei Brin rationalized:

We ultimately made a difficult decision, but we felt that by participating there, and making our services more available, even if not to the 100 percent that we ideally would like, that it will be better for Chinese Web users, because ultimately they would get more information, though not quite all of it.

I’m old enough to remember the exact same arguments being made against boycotting South Africa over apartheid. They were wrong then and they’re wrong now.

[Added 2006-02-16] In a telling piece of testimony, Google’s VP of communications says:

The requirements of doing business in China include self-censorship – something that runs counter to Google’s most basic values and commitments as a company.

There you have it. They admit they’re selling out their basic values.

2 thoughts on “Google: Don’t be evil unless it’s profitable

  1. I don’t understand why Google is getting all this flak over this, especially given that Yahoo and MS have apparently been running censored services into China lo these many years.

    OK, so years back they said they wouldn’t, and they’ve resisted doing so until now. But in view of the fact that they’re seeing their competition entrench themselves in a huge existing – and even huger future – market by bowing to the same controls and restrictions, (without, strangely, rousing any public ire) – how big is Google’s crime, really?

    Seems to me that staying out of China on principle – when their competition isn’t – comes close to cutting your nose to spite your face. Their decision is pragmatic, and in the future, as the Chinese administration’s grip inevitably loosens, they’ll be able to help to exert pressure from within if they want to.

    And I’d have thought they *would* want to: this is the company, after all, that just a short while back loudly told US Govt snoopers to hump a donut when they asked for all their search and user logs – unlike (again) Yahoo and MS, who had meekly handed the stuff over at the first request. Just a few weeks back Google was being hailed as the defender of public privacy and freedom, and alluva sudden they’re evil capitulators.

    So presumably I’m missing something important. What is it?


  2. It’s a matter of expectations. People expect Microsoft to be evil, and Yahoo have ratted out a couple of dissidents to the Chinese authorities so they can be disappeared, so nobody expects any better from them.

    But Google’s supposed corporate motto is “Don’t be evil”. If you set yourself up as the ethical alternative to Yahoo, people will expect you to live up to it.

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