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Google Readying To Pull Out of China 343

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the rumor-and-speculation dept.
Sagelinka writes "Both Google and the Chinese government appear to be leaking word that the search firm may soon shutter its operations there as negotiations between the two break down. Google first threatened to halt its operations in China after disclosing in January that an attack on its network from inside China was aimed at exposing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. At the time, Google also said it was reconsidering its willingness to censor search results of users in China as required by the government. 'I think Google thought China would be flexible,' said Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group. Google has since been negotiating with the Chinese government to find a way to continue operating in the country. Google did not respond today to requests for comment on the state of the negotiations with China."
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Google Readying To Pull Out of China

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  • Posturing? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by C_Kode (102755) on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @11:40AM (#31496448) Journal

    I think this is only posturing on Google's part. While China isn't a huge profit machine right now for them, access to 1.3B Internet users will be a big deal down the road.

    If they step aside, they will only be opening the door for the growth of Bing. Since search is probably 99% of their income, giving way to a competitor is not something they want to be doing.

    I highly doubt Google folds up shop in China.

  • by Jeng (926980) on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @11:40AM (#31496452)

    Has a major player like Google ever completely abandoned a country before?

    It should be interesting to see what kind of effect this has on Google, I doubt there will be a major change in China over this.

  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn@nOspAM.gmail.com> on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @11:40AM (#31496456) Journal

    "I think Google thought China would be flexible," said Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group.

    My opinion is that the CEO, Eric Schmidt [google.com], differs from the young idealism of Larry Page and Sergey Brin. I do not mean that either side of this leadership is right or wrong but instead simply that they have different motivations. Brin's past has come up before [slashdot.org] as a source for this (seemingly) new found anti-censorship campaign.

    Google's leadership is conflicted. Brin & Page see the ethics of the situation most important because their motivation seems to be less devoted to money. It certainly seemed to be an exercise in indexing when they started "Google." Schmidt, however, owes his allegience to the shareholders. Or at least feels the pull and responsibility of profit more so than any sort of ethical dilemma. And that's why he was put in that position: to keep investors investing. And, honestly, this last point is why I think this 'removal' is nothing but a rumor or a bluff. Because money is one of the most important things to Google. I don't think the young idealism will stand up to stock prices ... and I think everyone involved knows it. Until you tell me that Google.cn is dead and I go to the site and confirm it, I will not believe for a second this is possible.

    Brin and Page's cashing out [slashdot.org] is really just symbolic of what's already happened at Google. Their motivations are like any other company's. Some of it is about the customer and some of it is about profit ... and that's it. Pesky ideals and ethics have no place in corporate America. Step aside. It's the safest path to churn out tons of cash. They're walking away from too much money and market to pull out of China. It would be bad for stocks and any investors would flip out ... probably even sue.

  • by Stargoat (658863) <stargoat@gmail.com> on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @11:44AM (#31496544) Journal

    Could a lawsuit have merit when Google's motto is do no evil? It is clear that their presence in China was creating harm.

    On another note, I agree that google.cn will not be going anywhere. If nothing else, it would be a big FU to China to leave it as is but remove all censorship. Heck, pulling it might be construed as surrendering to censorship and therefore evil.

  • Trade secrets (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Nimey (114278) on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @11:48AM (#31496628) Homepage Journal

    Maybe former Google.cn employees will find themselves pressured into giving away Google's trade secrets to the Chinese government.

  • by Zocalo (252965) on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @11:52AM (#31496700) Homepage
    Someone else is already a virtual monopoly in China. Baidu is by far and away the most popular search engine in China and even Google is essentially an also ran, while Bing and Yahoo are barely above the level of being statistical noise.
  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn@nOspAM.gmail.com> on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @11:53AM (#31496716) Journal

    Who cares about China. Seriously.

    I'll bite. I care about China. I care about that one sixth of the world's population developing and coming out of poverty. To a lesser extent, I care about them becoming a serious player in the world market. Right now they play with their money and disrespect their work force beyond belief. It might not make you feel bad to pick up some piece of electronics at Walmart for $20 but I do feel bad when I see "Made in China" and have to think about the health problems the workers might develop ... the environmental damage the plant might create ... the plant's drinking water problems from the lead ... the list goes on. In order to solve these problems, people have to be unafraid to speak up. People need a method for improving these conditions -- however slowly it might come. They don't have that. Removing government censorship mandates is one step toward that. Yeah it's a slow process and it might not seem like much to you but it is to me.

    These are topics much closer to home with a much greater impact on us.

    I've tried to shake the "East Versus West" mentality as much as possible, it's sad to see it lingers on in some form. All countries are members of the world. Just because one country speaks the same language you do and has the same form of government you do shouldn't make it anymore or less important to you than another country with differences. China's population might even make it more important than Australia to me. You seem to have some very strange misconceptions about allegiances to countries that are disconnected from you. They hold no domain over you whether they're Australia or China. I certainly expect more of my representatives than to say "it's written into law in Australia, it should be in our law here." This "because everyone else is doing it" does not suffice as an argument where I live. Look at the Scandinavian nations that have taken different routes on copyright. It's okay to have different laws in different countries.

    What a bunch of Google execs will do with a handful of employees in China... not so much.

    I would wager that the precedent this public display sets will have far more implications for you (and what you consume) than Australia's "Think of the Children" campaign.

  • by lyinhart (1352173) on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @11:59AM (#31496820)

    It seems to me that they were looking for an excuse to leave, and the hacking provided exactly that.

    Don't know about that. China's got millions and millions of potential Google users in a fast developing market. Google probably wanted to be there and wanted to stay, but not on the (probably unfair) terms of Chinese government.

  • by c++0xFF (1758032) on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @12:51PM (#31497724)

    Sorry. Re-reading my statement it seems that I was too quick to submit -- that's not quite what I meant to say. And the result is that the comment got modded as a troll.

    I don't have a reference or any reputable source -- only an inkling or gut feeling.

    What it comes down to is Google stopped censoring results (admitting that google.cn will probably be shut down) because of a hacking attempt. This reasoning always seemed a bit dubious to me.

    Google doesn't have many ways of getting back at the Chinese government: refusing to censor is one of the few. More to the point is that it provided a means to make waves in China: "If you're not going to play by the rules, neither will we!"

    So, yeah. Maybe an excuse to "leave" isn't quite what I should have said. Let me edit my statement:

    It seems to me that they were looking for an excuse to threaten to leave.

  • by ckaminski (82854) <ckaminski&pobox,com> on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @12:59PM (#31497858) Homepage
    We all have to remember that China is probably the last remaining "empire" - until very recently (historically), they've been nothing but a feudal civilization, dominated by emperors from afar. It's going to take a generation or two to evolve to something like what Hong Kong enjoyed under British colonial rule.
  • by rwa2 (4391) * on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @01:04PM (#31497928) Homepage Journal

    Well, here are the Google blog posts mulling over China both then and now:
    http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2006/01/google-in-china.html [blogspot.com]
    http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2010/01/new-approach-to-china.html [blogspot.com]

    So essentially they'll be turning the clock back to 2006, where the Chinese had access to the unfiltered, international version of Google and were more painfully aware of its government's censorship effects.

    I'm mostly interested in how much Google actually follows through on their threat. It would still be an interesting PR move if they do (good or bad press is still press), but I'm sure they'll leave some tendrils there. More interesting and depressing if historians come back to this point in time and say this was some major event that lead to a much bigger rift between the East and the West.

  • Google Scholar (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Mongoose Disciple (722373) on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @01:26PM (#31498246)

    In theory, this is why China should care about Google:

    http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2010/02/china-scientists-google/ [wired.com]

  • by Hasai (131313) on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @01:29PM (#31498312)

    The problem with being a totalitarian regime is that you can never, ever, let-up on that boot you have grinding-down upon the necks of the people, even if you want to.
    Because the moment you do let-up, the people will stand up, and the next thing you know, you're hanging from a lamp post by a meat hook.

  • by d'fim (132296) on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @01:46PM (#31498558)

    Google is a "very valuable tool" for citizens' discontent with the government.

    Not after Google complies with the demands of the Chinese government.
    That seems to be the part that you're not getting.

    Google cannot win (i.e. help people more than Google has in the past).
    Google cannot stay even (i.e. help people the same amount as Google has in the past).
    Google can only capitulate to evil (i.e. help no one but the Chinese government) or leave (i.e. help the Chinese government).

    Google is boxed into helping the Chinese government either way, but one way requires compliance with evil and the other does not.

  • by Zarel (900479) on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @03:47PM (#31500410)

    You parrot the old Google party line about why they stayed in China for so long pretty well.

    But Google seems to be changing its line, albeit somewhat grudgingly. One might conclude that they were rationalizing the decision to stay where the money was even though they had to knowingly act against their stated values to do it; later found that you get burned when you shake the devil's hand; and now are trying to reconcile that with the fact that really they do still want access to all that money.

    One might otherwise conclude that they were doing much good by staying, but the PR problems of the West unexpectedly and hypocritically blaming them were just too much for them to handle.

    You seem to be implying that I'm some sort of Google apologist. I'm not. I'm just someone who wants to use Google, but soon won't be able to, since people like you seem to think your right to feel self-righteous outweighs my right to use a quality search engine that tells me when it censors results, and fights the Chinese government to keep as much of its data private as possible.

    What an ignorant attitude. Of course human rights abuses are not "A-OK". The first moral responsibility on the matter, though, is to make sure you yourself aren't committing them. Doing what you can to make the world as a whole better - e.g. by opposing those violations you aren't involved with - is important but secondary.

    Later in your post you brought up an analogy to a doctor who can't save everyone. In your context, it was a twisted stretch of an analogy; but here it's actually pretty apt, as doctors swear an oath to "first do no harm".

    Google staying in China is not like a doctor who can't save everyone; it's like a guy who profits by killing some patients justifying it by pointing to the few he also saves.

    Google pulling out of China is like a doctor. He says "first I will do no harm - I will not help China with its censorship efforts even if that means China won't let me operate in its borders"; and then perhaps he tries to save as many as he can. But as you say, he can't save everyone, and we do not hold him morally accountable for the misdeeds of others once he commits to do no harm himself.

    See, it doesn't work like that.

    Google staying in China is more like a doctor trying a treatment with side effects (aka practically every treatment in existence). "First do no harm" is better rendered as "first do no net harm." If you're helping people more than you're hurting them, it's difficult to argue that you're hurting them in the first place. Google pulling out of China is a doctor saying, "I refuse to give you this life-saving treatment because it might give you a cold."

    This is why Good Samaritan laws exist, since you Americans otherwise don't seem to understand that it's impossible to help someone without hurting them in some minor way.

    I notice that you still haven't answered my question. Does anyone other than the Chinese government benefit from Google pulling out? You haven't answered it because the answer is "no", and no matter how much hand-waving you do about being "complicit" or whatever, the answer will still be "no".

    Is it really worth causing harm to Chinese citizens, just so you can say "I'm not the one doing it"? Google pulling out of China is harming Chinese people, but all you care about is that Google isn't "complicit" in some irrelevant philosophical sense.

  • by Maxo-Texas (864189) on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @03:48PM (#31500416)

    The loans are not callable.
    And the limit of our liability is whatever assets are in their countries.

    China has bought trillions to keep their currency from appreciating. When they stop buying, the currency appreciates anyway and those trillions in purchases lose significant value. So yea, they are going to lose trillions of bucks whatever they do.

    In the meant time, the US got cheap goods and they got jobs and a chance to build infrastructure.

    But you don't suppress your currency value for as long as they did and as much as they did without paying for it at some point.

  • by Zarel (900479) on Tuesday March 16, 2010 @04:08PM (#31500660)

    That seems to be the part that you're not getting.

    Google cannot win (i.e. help people more than Google has in the past).
    Google cannot stay even (i.e. help people the same amount as Google has in the past).
    Google can only capitulate to evil (i.e. help no one but the Chinese government) or leave (i.e. help the Chinese government).

    Google is boxed into helping the Chinese government either way, but one way requires compliance with evil and the other does not.

    Man, if only that were true, then it'd be great that Google is pulling out! Too bad it isn't.

    Google cannot bring True Democracy (tm) and Complete Freedom (tm) to China. They also can't give everyone a pony. Does that mean they should just take their ball and go home?

    Tell me, why can't Google "win"? Why can't Google "stay even"? And how, exactly, is staying in China "capitulating to evil" and "helping no one but the Chinese government"?

    The way the situation currently is, Google has two choices.

    1. Leave China. This, as you've noted, helps no one but the Chinese government.
    2. Stay in China. This gives Chinese citizens a choice, which is never a bad thing (inapplicable exceptions notwithstanding).

    Google tells citizens when their search results are censored, which no other search engine does. This is the only situation I know of in which the sentence, "The Chinese government is forcing us to censor this" appears written in Chinese on the internet, without euphemisms. And you think that should go away?

    Google also protects the privacy of its data. No one really knows what goes on between the Chinese government and the other search engines, but I'm sure they'll give up server logs and other data without question. Google, on the other hand, is usually quite good about fighting government orders to turn over their data, and they generally make it known when they are being forced to hand over their data.

    Google is also a damn good search engine, and if they leave, I'll have to use Bing or Baidu or something.

    And you want to give all that up, just so you can feel a bit more self-righteous?

    Correction: You don't give up anything. You want other people to give all that up, just so you can feel a bit more self-righteous?

"A mind is a terrible thing to have leaking out your ears." -- The League of Sadistic Telepaths

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