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Behind Google's Recent Decision About China 155

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the wish-i-had-that-clout dept.
yuhong writes "This article by The Independent takes a look at what is behind the recent decisions made by Google regarding China, particularly regarding Sergey Brin, born in the USSR, [and whose origins] played a big part in this decision. From the article: 'He's always had an emotional tug within him, saying "we shouldn't be making compromises," says Ken Auletta, the author of Googled: The End of the World As We Know It.'"
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Behind Google's Recent Decision About China

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  • Hate google or not (Score:4, Interesting)

    by GundamFan (848341) on Thursday January 28, 2010 @09:50AM (#30932498)
    Standing up to China takes stones. Having said that, I am more and more afraid that they'll own all of us in my lifetime anyway.
    • Well yes... but: (Score:4, Insightful)

      by saibot834 (1061528) on Thursday January 28, 2010 @09:55AM (#30932572) Homepage

      If only they would have stood up for free speech at the beginning, and not only after they found themselves with a disappointing 29% market share [wikipedia.org].

      • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn.gmail@com> on Thursday January 28, 2010 @10:00AM (#30932618) Journal

        If only they would have stood up for free speech at the beginning, and not only after they found themselves with a disappointing 29% market share [wikipedia.org].

        Er, Baidu [wikipedia.org] had 1) been operating for seven years already when Google.cn was founded in China and 2) had the benefits of being a Chinese company that no doubt had leaders more in tune with Chinese culture.

        Pick a country foreign to you. Now give your competitors a seven year head start. Now try to enter the market. Now tell me that 29% is "disappointing." Has anyone come even close to that against Google in the US?

        I'd say 29% is pretty astonishing. What were you expecting?

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          That's not the point. Fighting an uphill battle and then at some point claiming to pull out due to freedom of speech issues isn't quite as believable as a world leader in search not entering a market due to freedom of speech issues.

          • by Anonymous Coward

            They have roughly 90 million users in China. That's a lot of eyeballs. Even if somebody else is doing better than they are, I don't quite see that as fighting an uphill battle.

          • by jbezorg (1263978) on Thursday January 28, 2010 @11:53AM (#30934160)

            AC:

            That's not the point. Fighting an uphill battle and then at some point claiming to pull out due to freedom of speech issues isn't quite as believable as a world leader in search not entering a market due to freedom of speech issues.

            From the article:

            Could Beijing really countenance a filter-free search engine? Probably not. But it also knows that driving Google from China would be a public relations catastrophe.

            I think Google entering the market and then leaving has a more profound effect since that 36% of the population will actually have a tangible experience to relate to. What may happen is that Google may be able to leverage this so that censorship is less restrictive on google.cn. and in order to compete Baidu would have to do the same.

            From the article:

            It was Schmidt who put the business case for Google to expand into China: with 384 million internet users, it is the world's biggest digital market – of which Google has grasped about 36 per cent since 2006. But Brin and Page spent a year weighing the pros and cons of the decision on what they called their "evil scale" before approving the launch of Google.cn.

            It's a pragmatic approach to "do no evil" rather than an idealistic one and in my opinion a better one since the idealistic approach would have made less progress or any progress at all.

          • by blind biker (1066130) on Thursday January 28, 2010 @11:57AM (#30934248) Journal

            That's not the point. Fighting an uphill battle and then at some point claiming to pull out due to freedom of speech issues isn't quite as believable as a world leader in search not entering a market due to freedom of speech issues.

            It is exactly the opposite: claiming not to enter a market (where they would face an uphill battle to get even the tiniest marketshare) due to freedom of speech issues is much less believable than pulling out after achieving a very respectable 29%, after all the money and time invested to get to those 29%.

            And you were modded "insightful"? Mods must be smoking something powerful.

        • by NeoSkandranon (515696) on Thursday January 28, 2010 @10:49AM (#30933120)

          Re: Baidu, It has less to do with "leaders in tune" and more to do with nationalism really.

          That google was able to establish the share they did in the face of being foreigners is astonishing indeed.

      • by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Thursday January 28, 2010 @10:33AM (#30932910)

        If only they would have stood up for free speech at the beginning, and not only after they found themselves with a disappointing 29% market share.

        Microsoft would kill for a 29% market share of the search business in the USA.

        • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Or 29% of the market share in China, for that matter.

          • China advertising != US advertising. In fact, 100% market share in China would still earn less than 29% market share in the US. Sure, 90 (and growing) million is a big audience, but not as lucrative once one realizes how little the average Chinese person is financially worth.

            Only ~2-3% of Google's total revenues came from China.

            It's not surprising that GOOG's stock didn't take much of a hit after they announced that they're pulling out of China.
        • Don't give Ballmer any ideas!

      • by severoon (536737)

        You're implying that they're only making a big deal out of this thing with China because it happens to be convenient to do so, and if they'd taken over the Chinese market they would be happily rolling over? Do you have any reason to think this?

        This would have certainly not been allowed, but I would've liked it if Google had met China's demands by showing the user how many items are censored. The search result wouldn't provide any links, images, etc, just a box that says "censored". They could have expanded

      • by nedlohs (1335013)

        How is 29% disappointing?

        Apple must be really disappointed with the Mac.

        Toyota's US market share is so disappointing too.

    • by yog (19073) * on Thursday January 28, 2010 @10:05AM (#30932678) Homepage Journal
      Hm, I'm not sure why anyone would "hate" Google. I like using all their free stuff, and my Nexus One is the cat's pajamas. I agree with you that it takes some big cajones to stand up to the PRC government, which is getting richer and scarier. But we have to remember a few historical facts. China is currently the low cost acceptable quality manufacturer in the world. This will not hold forever. Remember when it was Taiwan and Korea, and before that Japan? China will eventually face a situation where its cheap labor is a liability rather than an asset. They can't perpetuate this divide between the haves and have-nots forever. The cities will get richer, more expensive to live in, and knowledge worker wages will rise. Infrastructure needs will scream for more taxation, and cost of living will increase. Everyone will want a car, then two cars, then a house with a garage, etc. There's a price for moving to a consumption economy. China's paranoid regime will spend more on expensive new military gear and, gradually, it will increasingly resemble a Western economy. They can "near-source" their manufacturing to the hinterland, e.g. Sichuan, Guangdong, Guangxi, etc. for a while longer but not forever. Eventually, some other manufacturing region will become prominent--maybe parts of India, South America, or Africa, where wages are still very low and people are glad for any kind of work. Or, robotics and nanotech will finally kick in and remove the low wage advantage from the equation, and the U.S. may reemerge as a major manufacturer. A factory on every corner, with made-to-order consumer goods while you wait, for example. As for the Google situation, it's not over yet. I suspect there will be some kind of win-win understanding between the two parties where Google will be relieved of censorship duties, but the PRC government will find some other way to effectively censor search results without either side admitting any concession.
      • by OakDragon (885217) on Thursday January 28, 2010 @10:27AM (#30932854) Journal
        Thank you, that's an excellent response to all the China v. America doom-saying that's going on these days. Twenty years ago - and I am old enough to remember it first hand - it was Japan that was going to bury us. There are very good reasons that China's prospects look bleak rather than promising.
        • by Anonymous Coward

          Notice that ever since the 80s, you've been living large on credit. You have to look much further back to find a situation when the USA actually recovered from something like that, and the last time it was when the rest of the world had just been destroyed in a war.

        • Since when didn't Japan take huge chunks of the US economy? When I first started to drive, it was really rare to see a japanese car, as in..nevah. Now? Who needed emergency bailouts again, to keep from going completely bankrupt? How about electronics? I remember when all the TVs,radios, HiFis, etc were predominantly US made, that's what you saw in the stores and in people's homes, with germany actually being second tier, then, Japanese electronics hit. Whammmo they hit. Now, how many US made TVs are there

      • by jgardia (985157) on Thursday January 28, 2010 @10:54AM (#30933178)
        cajones = drawers, cojones = the word you wanted to use.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by JohnFen (1641097)

        I like using all their free stuff, and my Nexus One is the cat's pajamas.

        Nothing Google provides is for free. You pay for everything by exchanging access to your personal information for it.

        • by bonefry (979930)

          Yes, but it doesn't cut into my monthly paycheck ... too many of such monthly expenses would mean I won't be able to pay my bills and support my family ... and these, IMHO, are the real problems.

          If Google's search engine and Gmail ... came with a paid subscription, then I wouldn't use them ... that's one reason I switched from Yahoo's Mail to Gmail ... since the free version of YMail had serious restrictions, like a really small storage, and no POP3 access.

          Sorry, but I consider this to be a good deal ... Go

          • by JohnFen (1641097)

            If Google's search engine and Gmail ... came with a paid subscription, then I wouldn't use them ...

            But I might (I don't use them right now.)

            Sorry, but I consider this to be a good deal ... Google can mine my data all day long, I don't care.

            I never said it wasn't a good deal -- whether or not the price is acceptable is a purely personal calculation. My point is that it's not accurate to call Google's service "free."

        • That's okay, if Google wants to know about my porn searching habits I will just sleep at night amused with the knowledge that I made a Google employee uncomfortable that day.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        While China's overall GDP growth numbers have looked good, especially relative to other top economies, there are some underlying structural issues hidden by these numbers. In one case, I don't think they take into account the environmental sacrifices that have been made to pull their economy forward and this will be due at some point (recent green efforts, notwithstanding).

        A recent BBC broadcast (link below), highlighted some of the issues related to China's growth. The guest was Jim Chanos, an investor kno

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by DarenN (411219)

          The parent is extremely informative. It's a major problem in some areas of China because property development is very short term in terms of direct input into the economy, and leads to property bubbles where property is overvalued and eventually crashes. Add construction as a large percentage of your GDP then you've got the problem we ran into in Ireland when the construction sector collapsed - it was worth something like 25% of GDP and a correspondingly massive amount of tax receipts. When that income went

      • by gtall (79522)

        While I agree in general, S. Korea and Japan don't have nearly the population China does. China could spend a long time as the low cost manufacturer simply because there are so many poor peasants to be put to work.

    • by javilon (99157) on Thursday January 28, 2010 @10:41AM (#30933016) Homepage

      On the other hand, Microsoft is quite happy collaborating with the Chinese government in clamping on freedom of expression.

      If only for that reason, you'll never catch me using bing.

      There are the moral reasons and also the fact that information about you can end up in the hands of Chinese officials. Of course the later is more important for the Chinese population living abroad and for companies competing against Chinese products (most of the big ones if not all)

      • by Spykk (823586)

        On the other hand, Microsoft is quite happy collaborating with the Chinese government in clamping on freedom of expression.

        If only for that reason, you'll never catch me using bing.

        Does that mean you stopped using Google when they were doing the same thing?

    • by OwMyBrain (1476929) on Thursday January 28, 2010 @10:53AM (#30933174)

      Standing up to China takes stones.

      Having said that, I am more and more afraid that they'll own all of us in my lifetime anyway.

      Google or China?

      • by GundamFan (848341)
        Google is a publicly traded company so why not both? All kidding aside China is way scarier.
  • Like Father Like Son (Score:5, Interesting)

    by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn.gmail@com> on Thursday January 28, 2010 @09:50AM (#30932500) Journal

    This article by The Independent takes a look at what is behind the recent decisions made by Google regarding China, particularly regarding Sergey Brin was born in the USSR which played a big part in this decision.

    Interesting, Sergey's father faced the problem of having to compromise by abandoning his faith and culture in order to get the job he wanted (astronomer) or stay Jewish and be reduced/stunted in a select set of careers. Now Sergey has a similar decision where he can choose either his principles or a chance at one sixth of the world's population as a market. Should be an interesting choice.

    I hope he realizes that once he cashes in [slashdot.org] the choice will no longer be his and will be a painfully obvious one for the investors. Capitalistic greed, while much less worse than flaws of implemented Socialism, has its evils too, Sergey.

    • by Xest (935314) on Thursday January 28, 2010 @10:21AM (#30932816)

      I wouldn't be suprised if that's why they cashed in- so that they can do a u-turn without losing face themselves, they can simply say the investors decided for them and it was out of their hand. Still, I could be wrong, we may be pleasantly suprised.

      That said, he definitely seems to be the good guy at Google- he certainly seems worlds apart from Schmidt who actually seems to believe in the surveillance state.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Interesting, Sergey's father faced the problem of having to compromise by abandoning his faith and culture in order to get the job he wanted (astronomer) or stay Jewish and be reduced/stunted in a select set of careers.

      Actually, no. In the USSR, if you were Jewish, this was written in your passport and in no way a choice. Almost certainly Sergey's father was a secular Jew.

      I have the same background as Sergey (Jewish parents left USSR when I was little) and I can see precisely where he is coming from. It's scary to read all of the comments from people who have never lived under an actual oppressive government about how the US is just as bad as China, echoing the Chinese government that we shouldn't censure China for mur

      • It's scary to read all of the comments from people who have never lived under an actual oppressive government about how the US is just as bad as China ...

        It's not scary, it's the sign of a healthy system. If you have a population of over a million and no one is complaining about the leadership than something is terribly terribly wrong.

        I will always have comments to criticize my government with and I will decide how loudly I voice them. You are correct in asserting that China is worse on censorship than the US but that won't stop people from drawing analogies to prevent the equivocation from being complete. The fact that a North Korean or Iranian or C

        • Over a million and no complaints means something is wrong? How arbitrary and self serving.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by KarmaMB84 (743001)
            If you have any size population, it is inevitable that someone doesn't like how things are being run since it's impossible to please everyone. If nobody is complaining there certainly is something wrong. They're probably just staying quiet for fear of punishment.
    • by ornil (33732)

      Interesting, Sergey's father faced the problem of having to compromise by abandoning his faith and culture in order to get the job he wanted (astronomer) or stay Jewish and be reduced/stunted in a select set of careers.

      Actually, you have no clue. It was impossible to become non-Jewish in Soviet Union. Most Jews tried, I think. If it were possible, I think many would have succeeded. It has nothing to do with faith anyway, most people were atheists. It had to do with ethnicity, whether you parents were Jews.

  • if google wants to start a campaign to promote democracy and human rights in china on all websites in the world, forcing the people's republic to censor the whole world, effectively re-isolating themselves, they can do it. if they want to take another strategy, and make all of google inacessible from all of china, imposing some isolation on them, they also can. they can pressure other organizations to do the same. but continuing to play footsie with capitalism and fascism and maoism and government monopol
  • the Lesser of evils (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Andypcguy (1052300)
    I've set all 250 computers in my Dept. default search engine to Google. I think Evil is just a part of human nature and it takes real effort to not be evil. I applaud Google for standing up to China and forsaking monetary gains for purity of ideals.
    • by Pojut (1027544)

      Agreed. Yes, they should have stood up against them in the very beginning, but better late than never. It will be interesting to see how this affects things long term...

      I think it would be foolish to say Google isn't "evil" at all, but they certainly seem less so than many other companies their size. They have the potential to wield a HUGE amount of power, given the amount of data they have on such a large percentage of the population...but so far they seem to have kept themselves in check fairly well.

    • by maxume (22995)

      I like how you praised their rejection of an authoritarian regime by instituting an authoritarian action.

  • by roman_mir (125474) on Thursday January 28, 2010 @10:07AM (#30932690) Homepage Journal

    I am a stern opponent to anything communist/socialist in nature, being born and raised until the age of 16 back in the non-existent USSR. I am also against this buddy-buddy system, that apparently all of these so called capitalist societies have. There is no principled system anywhere, in the 'communist' countries, it's basically a dictatorship and no free enterprise is allowed to compete with it, because there is no competition, the planned economy is doomed. In the so called 'capitalist' countries now it is all about buying power in the government to push forward agenda of getting free money printed by the government.

    Hong Kong seems to be the place where the society came as close as possible to the real free market system, money is created by private entities, there are competing currencies, government can't dilute the value and give preferential treatment to certain corporations, banks, etc. You don't like what one monetary system is doing, move your business to another. I am sure it has its problems, which I am not aware of, since I never lived there, but it seems to be the best out of everything I have seen or hear of so far.

    I am not surprised that Brin is the guy who takes the principled stand and I would not be surprised to find out that he came up with the 'no evil' slogan. It's obviously going to be a losing battle, if we know anything about people, they'll fuck up anything until it's dead, look at HP, they used to be the 'no evil' company of engineers. I just remembered the horror stories connected to a professional firm jumping shark-ceo type, Fiorina was her name?

    That's the problem, we can't live forever, so our principles die with us and there is nothing much we can do past that to promote our ideals. We try, but looks like we fail in all cases, that's too bad.

    Good luck to Brin in this battle, I don't know that even his crazy fortune can fight off this one for too long and I don't know how interested he will be in that once enough pressure is applied from enough people interested in profit motive only.

    • Very good post. Thanks.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by calix0815 (899216)

      >>>
      Hong Kong seems to be the place where the society came as close as possible to the real free market system, money is created by private entities, there are competing currencies, government can't dilute the value and give preferential treatment to certain corporations, banks, etc.
      >>>

      You obviousely don't read the HK newspapers. The big tycoons have the system in their pocket. They can even control over a good part of their mini parliament because corporate bodies have exclusive voting rig

  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Thursday January 28, 2010 @10:12AM (#30932738) Homepage Journal

    The compromise that Google made with China was agreeing to Chinese censorship in exchange for China's protection from privacy invasion beyond that allowed by the laws Google agreed to follow. Then Google saw that protection was either useless against Chinese hackers, or betrayed by the Chinese government itself (or both).

    When you pay the mafia for "protection" but you get broken into anyway, you stop paying the mafia. If you can. We'll see whether Google is tougher than China's mafia government.

    • by elrous0 (869638) * on Thursday January 28, 2010 @10:39AM (#30932978)
      Yep, this wasn't some moral decision. Google was perfectly happy to play ball with China until they stole some of Google's propriety code (and hence threatened their bottom line). If China had never threatened Google financially, they would happily have gone on turning over names and censoring the web indefinitely.
      • by Vintermann (400722) on Thursday January 28, 2010 @11:00AM (#30933274) Homepage

        > they stole some of Google's propriety code

        I haven't seen anyone saying they did this. What they did was attack some of Google's customers, specifically some who work for human rights in China. Granted, since it was a hacking attempt at Google itself, they could probably have gone for code instead, but that's not what happened.

        China's reputation for industrial espionage may or may not be especially deserved. Their human rights record, however, there is little dispute of.

        • by elrous0 (869638) *
          If you read Google's initial release on the attack, you'll see that after they talk about the gmail accounts being hacked, buried at the bottom is the mention that the attackers also stole some of Google's "intellectual property." Later reports [wired.com] specified that the attack was aimed specifically at stealing proprietary source code (not just from Google, but from several other big companies as well).
        • I haven't seen anyone saying they did this. What they did was attack some of Google's customers, specifically some who work for human rights in China. Granted, since it was a hacking attempt at Google itself, they could probably have gone for code instead, but that's not what happened.

          Do you think google would be announcing this fact to the world if this had happened?

          Source code intrusions are serious problems - to the point where if you suspect an intrusion has occurred you pretty much owe it to your custo

  • If China rips off the iPod, Apple will know. They can buy and dismantle a knock-off, dump the ROMs, and prove that they have been ripped off. In Apple's case they can also lock down iTunes, or just rake in the iTunes revenue from the rip-off product users, but other manufacturers don't necessarily have that option.

    If China rips off Google Search, Google will not know, or not be able to prove it, since all the code will be on a server in China.

    So, if Google got wind that their Chinese employees were ripping

  • by Dorkmaster Flek (1013045) on Thursday January 28, 2010 @10:39AM (#30932984)

    particularly regarding Sergey Brin was born in the USSR which played a big part in this decision.

    Holy shit, can we please proofread summaries before submitting stories? How the hell did you people pass high school English?

  • Could these actions have been all started by Google's largest competitor Microsoft? I mean it's not out of the realm of possibilities to think that MS would love to have the Chinese market all to themselves, by having a back room deal with the Chinese Govt to target Google.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by tnk1 (899206)

      Could MS have done it? Yes. Did they have to? No. China's government is plenty evil without Redmond being involved. Occam's Razor and all of that.

  • Because in Soviet Russia, China censors Sergey Brin....
    • by pmontra (738736)
      Nope. It sounds odd in many ways but the meme should be: in Soviet Russia China removes censorships from Google! It's in the real word that China was censoring Google (with Google's active consent)
  • As such, he and his ancestors have seen plenty of discrimination and perhaps a pogrom or two, too. They were persecuted by the Czars, they were persecuted by Stalin, and basically, none of the USSR leaders after Stalin had much sympathy for them, either. I think Brin has a sharpened and sensitive view of things related to freedom of speech and other civil liberties.

  • Bold stand? PLEASE. Google makes almost all of their money in China by selling ads on their US site to Chinese companies, not from google.cn. If they really felt China was evil, they would pull out their sales team and stop selling personal information to the "evil" Chinese. But you notice that there is no talk of that from these jokers.
  • Is our new found hero responsible for great acts like pleading stay [slashdot.org] and re-eanling the filtering quietly [slashdot.org]. Certainly, we are allowed to know, not on the front-page.
  • Google has not pulled out of China. They still are there. They said they would THINK ABOUT IT and no longer censor results.

    Google will not pull out of China, rather they are playing poker to see if the Chinese government throws them out and blocks them. If they do (China) then the U.S. has grounds for complaining to the WTF.

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