This House believes that Google shouldn’t censor its search results in China

When Google.cn (a China-specific, local google homepage) first launched in 2006, it complied with Chinese censorship regulations, but not wholeheartedly: whenever search results were restricted from a search at google.cn, the user would get a notification that certain results had been censored. At the same time, an uncensored, Chinese-language version of the global google.com search engine remained available.

However, early January 2010, David Drummond, Senior Vice President (SVP) of Google, announced on his blog that Google would stop censoring results on google.cn. One clear motivation for this was Google’s discovery that Chinese hackers had been attacking their services. Another evident concern was Google unease with increasing pressure of the Chinese government to censor even more results. This is why Google announced its intention to stop censoring results on google.cn.[1] In March 2010, Google stopped censoring results and offered an automatic browser redirect from google.cn to its local search engine in Hong Kong.[2] This basically had the effect of making Google’s website more difficult to control for the Chinese authorities and easier for Chinese users to access censored, content, without obviously breaking Chinese law. Access to this site is restricted for mainland Chinese users via the Chinese government’s ‘Golden Shield’, also called ‘The Great Firewall’. The Chinese government retaliated by threatening to remove Google’s ‘Internet Content Provider license’.

From June 2010, onwards, google.cn is fully operational and is fully compliant again with Chinese censorship rules, just as it was before. The only difference is that there is a direct link to the Hong Kong search engine.[3] Chinese internet users do receive notification when results are censored on google.cn.

This casefile asks whether Google should go back to its policy of March 2010, and offer fully uncensored search results on google.cn.     

[1] David Drummond, ‘A new approach to China’, January 12, 2010. URL: http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2010/01/new-approach-to-china.html

[2] David Drummond, ‘A new approach to China: an update’, March 22, 2010. URL: http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2010/03/new-approach-to-china-update.html

[3] David Drummond, ‘An update on China’, June 28, 2010. URL: http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2010/06/update-on-china.html

 

Title 
Not censoring its search results is a victory for human rights
Point 

The problem with Google censoring its results, is that in doing so, it is complicit in China’s repression of free speech: it adapts its own search engine to display only the results the Chinese government wants, thereby limiting its citizens’ basic human right to free access to information (a corollary to free speech). By avoiding this complicity, Google is taking a bold, praiseworthy step towards enhancing respect for human rights in China and with it, Google can set an important example for other businesses with dealings in China.[1]

[1] Human Rights Watch, ‘China: Google Challenges Censorship’, January 12, 2010. URL: http://www.hrw.org/node/87654

Counterpoint 

Not censoring doesn’t advance human rights in China at all

Human rights in China are violated on a daily basis. For example, the incidence of people ‘disappearing’ for no apparent reason has been on the rise.[1] These human rights violations won’t suddenly end if Google were to stop censoring its results.

What’s more likely to happen, when Google stops censoring results at google.cn, is that Google.cn will get shut down within days – thus, leaving Chinese citizens with no good way at all to access information, since google.com is on the other side of The Great Firewall and Baidu is a Chinese company fully compliant with the government’s wishes. By staying, Google can at least broaden the access to information the Chinese citizens have, something Google itself had acknowledged in 2006 when entering the Chinese mainland.[2]

[1] Human Rights Watch, ‘China: Enforced Disappearances a Growing Threat’, November 9, 2011. URL: http://www.hrw.org/news/2011/11/09/china-enforced-disappearances-growing-threat

[2] Karen Wickre, ‘Testimony: The Internet in China’, February 15, 2006. URL: http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2006/02/testimony-internet-in-china.html

Title 
Not censoring helps Google’s business proposition and corporate identity
Point 

Google’s corporate motto is ‘don’t be evil’. This is partly an issue of corporate identity, and partly a clever business proposition. In both cases, complying with Chinese censorship rules damages Google as a company.

The key to Google’s dominance in the search market is that users know Google will always deliver the search results most relevant to them. By adhering to censorship laws, users will trust the relevance of Google’s search results less, which hence erodes Google’s business position as users will be more likely to try alternative search engines.[1]

[1] Rebecca Blood, ‘Google's China decision is pragmatic, not idealistic’, January 2010. URL: http://www.rebeccablood.net/archive/2010/01/im_neither_as_impressed_with.html

Counterpoint 

This doesn’t enhance Google’s business proposition at all

Google already censors results all across the globe. It has been censoring digital piracy-related content since early 2011, but this hasn’t led to users abandoning Google for another search engine.[1] It has been leaving a backdoor open for the US Government, but this also hasn’t sent either users or employers packing.[2] Why should the small extra step of censoring according to China’s laws do so?

[1] Sara Yin, Pcmag, ‘Google Censors Piracy-Related Terms from Search Tools’, January 27, 2011. URL: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2376750,00.asp

[2] Bruce Schneier, CNN, ‘U.S. enables Chinese hacking of Google’, January 23, 2010. URL http://edition.cnn.com/2010/OPINION/01/23/schneier.google.hacking/index.html

Title 
Not censoring puts global pressure on China to change its free speech policies
Point 

Google’s decision to stop censoring was world news, and has put internet freedom on everyone’s agenda – even so much so, that U.S. Secretary of State mentioned internet companies ganging up to censor the Chinese corner of the internet specifically as a threat to freedom worldwide in a recent speech.[1] This helps to inform ordinary citizens of other countries who may not know about the ‘great firewall’ what the Chinese government is doing. By making a high-profile decision like this, and by engaging and informing the governments and publics of free and democratic countries like this, Google increases the public and political pressure on China to change its ways.

[1] Hillary Clinton, ‘Conference on Internet Freedom’, December 8, 2011. URL: http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2011/12/178511.htm

Counterpoint 

China won’t budge that easily

China has already faced trade sanctions for its human rights abuses for years, in particular there are bans on arms sales by the European Union that are still in place more than twenty years after the Tiananmen Square massacre that precipitated them.[1] These haven’t helped a bit.[2] Why would a relatively small move like Google stopping its censorship work?

Moreover: true reform in China has to come from within. When it’s forced from the outside, it will not be accepted. If Google stops cooperating with the government, reform-minded Chinese officials will have a harder time, because they will seem to be losing face in the eyes of more hardline officials.[3]

[1] See debate on EU arms sales to china

[2] James Dorn, ‘Improving Human Rights in China’, February 8, 1999. URL: http://www.freetrade.org/node/169

[3] Shaun Rein, ‘Opposing View: Google’s Big Mistake’, March 28, 2010. URL: http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/editorials/2010-03-29-editorial29_ST1_N.htm

Title 
Google can’t afford to abandon the Chinese market
Point 

In 2010, the search market in China was valued at $1.7 billion and was expected to grow at an average of 50% per year for the coming few years.[1] After the 2010 incident, Google has been losing market share in China rapidly.[2] From a business perspective, Google just can’t afford to miss out on such a business opportunity: not only will it miss entering this market when it is growing, it will also forfeit a comfortable position in the search market from which it can build its other businesses, like gmail and android, the way it does in other countries.[3]

[1] Melanie Lee, ‘Analysis: A year after China retreat, Google plots new growth’, Reuters, January 13, 2011. URL: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/01/13/us-google-china-idUSTRE70C1X820110113

[2] Reuters, ‘Google search share slips as Baidu gains report’, July 26, 2010, URL: http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/07/26/us-online-search-market-idUSTRE66M3LI20100726

[3] Kyle Baxter, ‘Android isn’t about building a mobile platform’, January 4, 2011. URL: http://tightwind.net/2011/01/android-isnt-about-building-a-mobile-platform/ Last consulted: December 22, 2011

Counterpoint 

Google’s revenues wont decline because of this

Google as a company is still going strong – in the third quarter of 2011, it managed to exceed analysts’ expectations and posted impressive revenue growth. Most importantly, the figures showed that finally the revenue from its mobile and video advertising platform started to come in. This means that the revenue for Google is now starting to come from all over their business portfolio, instead of coming from the search platform alone.[1] This result shows that Google’s revenues won’t sag a bit because of this choice.

Also, as argued above, by staying true to its company motto, Google actually strengthens, not weakens, its position with regards to the rest of the world – and possibly eventually in a democratic China.

[1] Financial Times, ‘Google shares soar on higher earnings’, October 13, 2011. URL: http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/2/f5a8a1c6-f5da-11e0-bcc2-00144feab49a.html#axzz1hJ3EofDe

Title 
Google will help Chinese internet freedom more by staying
Point 

As Google itself argued in 2006 when it first entered the Chinese domestic market; when Google is fully present in China, it can at least do its very best to allow its Chinese users as much access to all the information that Chinese users are allowed to look up. By expanding their access, Google can at least contribute to a broadening of the amount of information Chinese internet users can gather. The alternative is them relying on an even more censored Chinese search engine called Baidu, or having them try to access a heavily blocked, slowed down, restricted and monitored version of Google outside of China, for example google.com or the Hong Kong-based Google.com.hk. Having a locally accessible version of Google that is censored might not be optimal, but it’s better than nothing.[1]

[1] Karen Wickre, ‘Testimony: The Internet in China’, February 15, 2006. URL: http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2006/02/testimony-internet-in-china.html Last consulted: December 22, 2011

Counterpoint 

Staying will not help Chinese internet freedom at all

If google.cn was to be left uncensored, then within a short period, google.cn would lose its license to operate and will be pulled down. Chinese internet users will then have to rely either on Baidu, which provides more or less the same results as Google, or will have to try to break through the blockades of the Great Firewall to reach the Hong Kong-based Google. If Google does censor itself, it will only state ‘some results have not been shown’ – Chinese citizens still won’t know what has been hidden. Unless they then try to access the Hong Kong based Google, but then the Great Firewall will stop them anyway. Either way, Chinese citizens will be blocked from seeing what their government doesn’t want them to see, so what’s the difference? Google might as well stick to its principles and not censor itself.

Title 
As a business, Google shouldn’t interfere with domestic politics
Point 

Business is business and politics is politics – and the two shouldn’t mingle. When a company wants to operate in a foreign country, it should respect the government and its regulations. We require the same when a company wants to operate within our territory: suppose a big Chinese company came to our home country and suddenly started criticizing our domestic policies – these are the policies of the sovereign state whose territory it is, and outsiders have no place to tell it how to run itself.[1]

[1] Nicholas Deleon, TechChrunch, ‘China has every right to be upset with Google right now’, March 23, 2010. URL: http://techcrunch.com/2010/03/23/china-has-every-right-to-be-upset-with-google-right-now/ Last consulted: December 22, 2011

Counterpoint 

Google’s business is inseparable from basic human rights

The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), a UN conference, affirmed that access to information is a basic human right, a corollary to the freedom of opinion and expression as articulated in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.[1] It is a right because access to information is often basic to human life; to how to live in society, to work and to educate ourselves. China ratified the Universal Declaration back in 1948 when it was accepted by the UN’s General Assembly, and was a party to the WSIS 2003 conference. This means that, if China is to be a responsible member of the international community, we can expect them to uphold the principles they publicly declare.

Google’s mission is ‘to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful’. Note that this mission happens to coincide with the basic human right of access to information. This is why Google’s choice to interfere with China’s domestic politics isn’t just ‘big business interfering with a state’s sovereign politics’ – it’s a case of a big business whose business model happens to be providing a basic human right the sovereign state should have, by its own accord, provided a long time ago.

[1] World Summit on the Information Society, ‘Declaration of Principles. Building the Information Society: a global challenge in the new Millennium’, December 12, 2003. URL: http://www.itu.int/wsis/docs/geneva/official/dop.html  Last consulted: December 22, 2011

Bibliography 

Michael Arrington, TechChrunch, ‘Why Google Emplyees Quit’, January 18th, 2009. URL http://techcrunch.com/2009/01/18/why-google-employees-quit/ Last consulted: December 22, 2011

Kyle Baxter, ‘Android isn’t about building a mobile platform’, January 4, 2011. URL: http://tightwind.net/2011/01/android-isnt-about-building-a-mobile-platform/ Last consulted: December 22, 2011

Rebecca Blood, ‘Google's China decision is pragmatic, not idealistic’, January 2010. URL: http://www.rebeccablood.net/archive/2010/01/im_neither_as_impressed_with.html Last consulted: December 22, 2011

Hillary Clinton, ‘Conference on Internet Freedom’, December 8, 2011. URL: http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2011/12/178511.htm  Last consulted: December 22, 2011

Nicholas Deleon, TechChrunch, ‘China has every right to be upset with Google right now’, March 23, 2010. URL: http://techcrunch.com/2010/03/23/china-has-every-right-to-be-upset-with-google-right-now/ Last consulted: December 22, 2011

David Drummond, ‘A new approach to China’, January 12, 2010. URL: http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2010/01/new-approach-to-china.html Last consulted: December 22, 2011

David Drummond, ‘A new approach to China: an update’, March 22, 2010. URL: http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2010/03/new-approach-to-china-update.html Last consulted: December 22, 2011

David Drummond, ‘An update on China’, June 28, 2010. URL: http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2010/06/update-on-china.html Last consulted: December 22, 2011

James Dorn, ‘Improving Human Rights in China’, February 8, 1999. URL: http://www.freetrade.org/node/169 Last consulted: December 22, 2011

Financial Times, ‘Google shares soar on higher earnings’, October 13, 2011. URL: http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/2/f5a8a1c6-f5da-11e0-bcc2-00144feab49a.html#axzz1hJ3EofDe Last consulted: December 22, 2011

Human Rights Watch, ‘China: Google Challenges Censorship’, January 12, 2010. URL: http://www.hrw.org/node/87654 Last consulted: December 22, 2011

Human Rights Watch, ‘China: Enforced Disappearances a Growing Threat’, November 9, 2011. URL: http://www.hrw.org/news/2011/11/09/china-enforced-disappearances-growing-threat Last consulted: December 22, 2011

Melanie Lee, ‘Analysis: A year after China retreat, Google plots new growth’, Reuters, January 13, 2011. URL: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/01/13/us-google-china-idUSTRE70C1X820110113 Last consulted: July 24, 2013

Shaun Rein, ‘Opposing View: Google’s Big Mistake’, March 28, 2010. URL: http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/editorials/2010-03-29-editorial29_ST1_N.htm Last consulted: December 22, 2011

Reuters, ‘Google search share slips as Baidu gains report’, July 26, 2010, URL: http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/07/26/us-online-search-market-idUSTRE66M3LI20100726 Last consulted: July 24, 2013

Bruce Schneier, CNN, ‘U.S. enables Chinese hacking of Google’, January 23, 2010. URL http://edition.cnn.com/2010/OPINION/01/23/schneier.google.hacking/index.html Last consulted: December 22, 2011.

Karen Wickre, ‘Testimony: The Internet in China’, February 15, 2006. URL: http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2006/02/testimony-internet-in-china.html Last consulted: December 22, 2011

Lance Whitney, Cnet, ‘Google Crowned World’s Most Attractive Employer’, September 30, 2011. URL: http://news.cnet.com/8301-1001_3-20113941-92/google-crowned-worlds-most-attractive-employer/ Last consulted: December 22, 2011

Wikipedia, ‘Great Firewall of China’. URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Firewall_of_China Last consulted: December 22, 2011

World Summit on the Information Society, ‘Declaration of Principles. Building the Information Society: a global challenge in the new Millennium’, December 12, 2003. URL: http://www.itu.int/wsis/docs/geneva/official/dop.html  Last consulted: December 22, 2011

Sara Yin, Pcmag, ‘Google Censors Piracy-Related Terms from Search Tools’, January 27, 2011. URL: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2376750,00.asp Last consulted: December 22, 2011

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