China: Will Google Go or Stay?

Lora Bentley
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Will Google Take a Stand in China?


As much as has been written about Google (presumably) pulling out of China, there are also several blog posts explaining valid reasons Google also has for deciding to stay put - not the least of which is the Don Tennant piece to which I pointed yesterday.


After reading several arguments for either side of the issue, I realized there are primarily five reasons for Google to leave China, and five reasons it should stay.


On the "Google Should Go" list:

  1. The sixth principle on Google's "Ten things" page states: "You can make money without doing evil." It stands to reason that a company committed to avoiding evil would not want to stay in a communist country where it is required to participate in the oppression of Chinese citizens. Though the substance of this principle applies primarily to Google's advertising practices, the general public does not necessarily know that. The company could face a public relations nightmare if it chooses to stay.
  2. Google executives have said more than once they will not stand for or continue to comply with the censorship requirements put forth by the Chinese government, yet the government also refuses to budge. Google looks inept and weak if it backs down now.
  3. Congress may pass legislation that would fine companies that don't uphold basic human rights. If Google opts to stay in China, it could face serious fines and other penalties from its own government. And those fines would be in addition to the added regulatory scrutiny the company faces every time it proposes a merger or acquisition, given its dominant place in the search market.
  4. The United States soon may be making a case against China before the World Trade Organization, arguing that its Internet censorship is an unfair barrier to international trade. Since Google was among those initially suggesting the WTO proceeding, it would not want to then participate in said barrier.
  5. The hacks into Google's network that started this entire discussion have been traced to China and perhaps even have ties to the Chinese government.


And on the "Google Should Stay" list:

  1. China boasts more Internet users than the entire U.S. population, and Google has recently gained significantly in that market, so there is substantial revenue to be gained.
  2. There's no guarantee that closing the search business in China won't harm Google's other interests there.
  3. Google does not want to allow its global search competitors to gain a stronger foothold in the Chinese market Consider this piece from The Huffington Post, which doesn't expressly say Google should stay, but indicates that Microsoft and other Google competitors would gain a huge advantage if the search giant picks up and goes home. How smart is that strategically?
  4. Google doesn't want to deal with the "repercussions" that Chinese officials keep threatening if it does leave, which necessarily would also affect the U.S. government's relationship with China -- or at least the Chinese government's perception of the U.S.
  5. Google's presence in the country is still a "net positive" for information flow. Punishing Google users in China for what their government does or does not do is unfair.


I can certainly see why Google is not in a hurry to make or act on a decision in this situation.

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