January 14, 2010

Is Google going.. going .. gone ?

January 14, 2010 Posted by Vijay No comments
Google has put its foot down on its China operations and has sought to not censor search results for  Google china searches. Google had gone out of its way in 2006 to censor results specific to Google China. As has been the dubious distinction of the Chinese Government, the censoring of results was to limit mutinies arising out of atrocities by the Chinese government and limit uprisings against its human rights violations. Thus the filtering done for Google China would be at the behest of the Chinese authorities. The restrictions of free expression, over the internet and access to potentially controversial information about the government thus continued in China.

It has taken three long years, and it has taken few hackers on Google accounts of human rights activists and other U.S. companies for Google to say enough is enough. Google has gone on the offensive and now come out saying that it would either not filter Google China search results or exit the Chinese search market altogether. There have been multiple theories and arguments about this move by Google. Of course Google would continue to work with Chinese Government to understand the implications. But the hacking of Google accounts and related cyber attacks to track human rights activists and even U.S. companies is going to make it difficult for Google to trust the Chinese government.

Google China has admittedly been trailing the other Chinese local search giant, Baidu. Baidu has more than a 60% share in internet search revenues compared to Google's less than 20%. But with the mammoth opportunities of China which already has the largest internet internet usage, this may seem more like a gimmick. The counter argument though, goes that with as little a share as that, it would hardly hurt the $22 billion firm. The fact remains though, that one cannot ignore the fastest growing economy in the world, poised to overtake Japan as the second largest economy. In that sense, the 20% share would probably yield much larger revenues for Google in years to come.

In true business style, Eric Schmidt was not keen on making such a dramatic exit from the Chinese internet search market. Looks like the principles of Google, to promote open source and relevant and uncensored content to promote free access has won over Schmidt. Google is probably at the peak of its business, with diversification across multiple areas including its own Nexus One phone it released a week back. However one does need to take this unusual and aggressive message by Google in context. China maybe asserting itself globally as a never to be missed opportunity. But it takes a Global brand like Google to highlight the human right violations of the Chinese government. If hacking into human rights activists account is possible, then it doesn't augur well for any Chinese citizen. No one is free to either communicate or even browse through the internet. Being in India, I can imagine the sense of frustration and anger that could be seething within the Chinese people.