Alphabet Chairman John Hennessy says that anybody who does business in China compromises some of their core values. Alphabet, of course, is the parent company of Google and reportedly Google is considering re-entering the search business in China. Hennessy said that Google is struggling with whether it is better to give Chinese citizens a decent search engine even if it is restricted and censored.
John Hennessy, Chairman of Google parent company Alphabet, discussed Google’s struggle and internal debate on whether to provide a censored search engine in China during a live audience interview on Bloomberg.
Anybody Who Does Business in China Compromises Core Values
“Anybody who does business in China compromises some of their core values,” says Alphabet Chairman John Hennessy in a live audience interview on Bloomberg. Alphabet is the parent company of Google. “Every single company because the laws in China are quite a bit different than they are in our own country. The question that comes to my mind and that I struggle with is are we better off giving Chinese citizens a decent search engine, a capable search engine, even if it is restricted and censored in some cases than a search engine that’s not very good? Does that improve the quality of their lives? That’s the struggle that we have to work our way through.”
“I think it is a legitimate question in asking how can you do it and still live within the context of what their regulations are,” Hennessy said in response to whether Google can do more good by being in China. “Part of what is reflected inside Google as it is everywhere in the Valley and everywhere in our country right now is the divisiveness that exists. I think that divisiveness has fed more concern in how these technologies get used.”
We Are in a Different Time Now
“If you wind back to the time that Google decided to exit China there were lots of things going on, not just censorship but also surveillance, hacking attempts, things like that,” noted Hennessy. “Those all added together to create a situation. We are in a different time now. Asking how you do this, how you make it safe, but if you store data in the country it can be gotten at by the Chinese authorities. I think you should worry about that and as a minimum, you should make sure that your users understand that.”
Hennessy is not a fan of the current trade wars. “I think in general that trade wars are not productive and they’re not economically productive either. We should try to remind people of that and try to find a way to move forward.”
Google Pulled Out of China in 2010
In 2010 Google Chief Legal Officer David Drummond, announced that Google would no longer continue censoring their results on Google.cn which quickly led to a complete Google block by the Chinese government:
On January 12, 2010, we announced on this blog that Google and more than twenty other U.S. companies had been the victims of a sophisticated cyber attack originating from China, and that during our investigation into these attacks we had uncovered evidence to suggest that the Gmail accounts of dozens of human rights activists connected with China were being routinely accessed by third parties, most likely via phishing scams or malware placed on their computers. We also made clear that these attacks and the surveillance they uncovered—combined with attempts over the last year to further limit free speech on the web in China including the persistent blocking of websites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google Docs and Blogger—had led us to conclude that we could no longer continue censoring our results on Google.cn.
So earlier today we stopped censoring our search services—Google Search, Google News, and Google Images—on Google.cn. Users visiting Google.cn are now being redirected to Google.com.hk, where we are offering uncensored search in simplified Chinese, specifically designed for users in mainland China and delivered via our servers in Hong Kong. Users in Hong Kong will continue to receive their existing uncensored, traditional Chinese service, also from Google.com.hk. Due to the increased load on our Hong Kong servers and the complicated nature of these changes, users may see some slowdown in service or find some products temporarily inaccessible as we switch everything over.
Figuring out how to make good on our promise to stop censoring search on Google.cn has been hard. We want as many people in the world as possible to have access to our services, including users in mainland China, yet the Chinese government has been crystal clear throughout our discussions that self-censorship is a non-negotiable legal requirement. We believe this new approach of providing uncensored search in simplified Chinese from Google.com.hk is a sensible solution to the challenges we’ve faced—it’s entirely legal and will meaningfully increase access to information for people in China. We very much hope that the Chinese government respects our decision, though we are well aware that it could at any time block access to our services. We will therefore be carefully monitoring access issues, and have created this new web page, which we will update regularly each day, so that everyone can see which Google services are available in China.
In terms of Google’s wider business operations, we intend to continue R&D work in China and also to maintain a sales presence there, though the size of the sales team will obviously be partially dependent on the ability of mainland Chinese users to access Google.com.hk. Finally, we would like to make clear that all these decisions have been driven and implemented by our executives in the United States, and that none of our employees in China can, or should, be held responsible for them. Despite all the uncertainty and difficulties they have faced since we made our announcement in January, they have continued to focus on serving our Chinese users and customers. We are immensely proud of them.
Posted by David Drummond, SVP, Corporate Development and Chief Legal Officer