Google: philanthropic or mercantile?

January 29, 2010 — by Arnav Dugar
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Google: running out of China?

In the 12 years since it was founded, Google Inc. has grown from a garage-based search engine into an internationally recognized cloud-computing giant, yet the company is contemplating a bold step in the opposite direction, abandoning its business in China because of a China-based cyber attack on its intellectual property and continued frustration over government censorship.

Google’s decision may seem rash and illogical, but it is a calculated move. The company’s ostensibly philanthropic attempt to bring free speech to China seems to be shrouding an ulterior mercantile motive.

Google was lured into China by the growing market for Internet applications, but its services were blocked intermittently, giving Baidu, a Beijing-based rival search engine company, a huge advantage. As Google’s attempt to take Baidu’s market share failed, its hopes to establish a successful Chinese division were dashed.

By making a bold threat to leave China and refusing to censor search results, Google has already burned its bridges with the Chinese government, showing it has accepted defeat against Baidu and is not willing to return to China. However, instead of publicly admitting defeat, Google is using the hacking incident and the advocacy of free speech as a red herring for a commercial retreat.

Still, Google provides no explanation on how the cyber attacks are a reason to leave China, why the attacks mean Google should suddenly stop censoring search results, or what intellectual property was stolen.

Google linked the attacks to “Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists,” but claimed the accounts were not “accessed through any security breach at Google, but most likely via phishing scams or malware placed on the users’ computers.” However, Google fails to mention any details about the internal “security incident.”

In addition, Google seems to be covering up the details of the security breach by only mentioning the instances in which accounts were hacked as a result of the user’s actions instead of a lapse in security. Regardless, if Google removed its servers from China, it still would be susceptible since these attacks can be carried out anywhere on the globe as long as there is an Internet connection.

Google is simply attempting to save face by turning the embarrassing events into actions of humanity. The Chinese government is highly unlikely falter from its views on censorship, especially since it has little vested interest in Google. Google, meanwhile, benefits from positive publicity from taking a “bold” stand against censorship.

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