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China Wars: The Googleplex Strikes Back

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After being a media piata over the course of the week, Google has come back firing at its critics, led by a lengthy post by its senior policy counsel, Andrew McLaughlin.

The official Google blog received a missive dispatched from McLaughlin, who discussed the debut of Google.cn. That domain will be a local presence in China, and should offer Google users there a better experience than what they get from Google.com currently.

Establishing that presence required a compromise on Google’s part. “In order to do so, we have agreed to remove certain sensitive information from our search results,” McLaughlin wrote. “We know that many people are upset about this decision, and frankly, we understand their point of view.”

Google is entering the Chinese market well after its main search rivals, Yahoo and MSN. Both of those firms have conducted business in China that also drew criticism from much of the free world, but not nearly so much as Google has seen; even Congress wants Google to explain itself.

McLaughlin has made an attempt to do so now. He noted how Google spent a lot of time trying to decide how to best serve the market and fulfill its corporate goal of organizing the world’s information to make it universally accessible and useful:

Filtering our search results clearly compromises our mission. Failing to offer Google search at all to a fifth of the world’s population, however, does so far more severely. Whether our critics agree with our decision or not, due to the severe quality problems faced by users trying to access Google.com from within China, this is precisely the choice we believe we faced.


Doug Edwards, the ex-Google staffer who now writes the Xooglers blog, confirmed yesterday what McLaughlin posted today; Google spent years trying to decide the best course of action for its China involvement. From Edwards’ post:

I can attest personally to the passion with which this issue was debated within the company. Great concern was expressed for those in China who would know only a bastardized version of Google search and for the company’s employees who would be subject to the whims of the Chinese government if an official office opened there.

I was in China recently and it was my sense that search engine censorship was expected by most Internet users, since so much of their news is already run through a government filter. They simply seem to shrug and factor it into their use of the web. The limited group of people with whom I spoke preferred search engines that gave them the best way to find mp3s and movies online and handled Chinese names correctly, rather than those that gave the most complete information about Taiwanese efforts to remain independent.


McLaughlin’s post did echo a sentiment expressed by Bill Gates recently and Yahoo’s Terry Semel in October 2005. All three firms believe they can do more for China and Internet freedom by being there than not being there.

Gates told delegates at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland that “Access to the outside world is preventing more censorship….I do think information flow is happening in China. … There’s no doubt in my mind that it’s been a huge plus.”

Semel made comments in San Francisco defending Yahoo’s place in China:

“I’ve always taken the attitude that you’re better off playing by the government’s rules and getting there,” the Yahoo chairman, Terry Semel, told attendees of the Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco this month. “Part of our role in any form of media is to get whatever we can into those countries and to show and to enable people, slowly, to see the Western way and what our culture is like, and to learn.”


Google CEO Eric Schmidt, attending the WEF as is Gates, weighed in on the controversy while taking questions from the Davos audience, IDG reported:

“We concluded that although we weren’t wild about the restrictions, it was even worse to not try to serve those users at all,” Schmidt said. “We actually did an evil scale and decided not to serve at all was worse evil,” he said, referring to the company’s famous “don’t be evil” creed.

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David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.

China Wars: The Googleplex Strikes Back
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