Google threatens to switch off China

google_128.pngI linked to this post on the Google blog this morning from The Daily Maverick newsletter. It is a very interesting story because of what it reveals about what our world will be like in the months and years ahead.

Like many other well-known organizations, we face cyber attacks of varying degrees on a regular basis. In mid-December, we detected a highly sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate infrastructure originating from China that resulted in the theft of intellectual property from Google. However, it soon became clear that what at first appeared to be solely a security incident–albeit a significant one–was something quite different.

We launched 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. At the time we made clear that “we will carefully monitor conditions in China, including new laws and other restrictions on our services. If we determine that we are unable to achieve the objectives outlined we will not hesitate to reconsider our approach to China.”

These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered–combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web–have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China. We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down, and potentially our offices in China.

I’m still working on a post about my thoughts about Google and some of its 2009 product launches for another site (its turning into one of those posts which take me forever to finish) but what I found really interesting about this story is the scale of it. Google and a number of other companies have come under attack from within China, very likely the Chinese government, and Google, a private and massive corporation, is taking action against the Chinese government under the guise of sticking to its values and working with the Chinese government.

Google is taking a stand against the Chinese government and is apparently willing to risk turning off the massive Chinese market, practically in retaliation for the attacks on its infrastructure. What I am more curious about is how the landscape will change as Google becomes more pervasive and influential. Will there one day be digital warfare between a corporation and a government?


  1. kike cueva avatar
    kike cueva

    Corporations are the new superpowers in the digital era as we can see: Google Inc. just challenged THE CHINESE GOVERNMENT, so its pretty clear what´s about to come. Next thing will be Google and Facebook being part of the UN, which in a way… it´s not an entirely bad idea cause that way all the people of the planet that have internet are going to be able to discuss and decide, which in the end means true democracy.

  2. Emeri Gent [Em] avatar

    What reading this teaches me is that change has become the one constant we can rely on. At the most personal level it suggests that the age ahead of us is one where humility is the reality. Personally I am humbled by the scale of this, even simply contemplating cyber wars between corporations and nation states – of course it is all possible.

    All I can do is filter it down to a unit of one and when that unit of one happens to be me, the lesson I take away is to work on my own humility, keep refining my language, understand that as things become bigger there is a wisdom in becoming smaller and most of all, appreciate uncertainty as an intelligence rather than as an emotion.

    One thing is for sure, to be aware of these matters is smarter than being ignorant of them, and then comes the ability to bring of all this down to a size that I can consume. I guess from that observation, improving personal nutrition rather than consumption becomes the order of the day.

    It was a pleasure to think about what you have written here Paul albeit at a personal level, which just happens the only way I have chosen to look at this as my personal modus operandi.


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