Google Vs Censorship

Google meet China, China meet Google

"Do No Evil" is Google's mantra coined in its infancy and with the lofty ambition to provide "all the world's information to everybody in the world", it has often encountered copyright and privacy issues. However it's the spectre of censorship which has forced Google to make the biggest compromises to its corporate ethos.

China has in the region of 350 million potential internet users and its search engine market is worth an estimated $1bn (£614m) in 20091. Western firms wanting the opportunity to operate in China have had to abide by the stringent market rules enforced by the Chinese regime. China places great importance on controlling the information flow on the internet in Chinese 'airspace'. Battelle2 highlights that "China has gone to extraordinary lengths to censor the internet - to the point of building what is known in academic circles as the Great Firewall of China, a technological infrastructure that automatically filters out banned sites"

Google entry into China in 2004 came at the cost of providing a censored Google product to the Chinese public. It was a battle between corporate expansion versus the moral compass of Google and Google's commentators declared the victory of corporate expansion. O’Rourke et al.3 highlights that "The fact that Google's actions appeared to be completely at odds with their motto of “Don't Be Evil” was an irony not lost on their critics, who quickly drew attention to the inconsistency"

Google takes a stand

On 13 January 2010, Google's Corporate Development and Chief Legal Officer David Drummond, announced the details of an attack on Google Mail on the official Google blog, believed to have originated from China targeting Chinese human rights activists Gmail accounts. Google made the following statement in the blog "We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down, and potentially our offices in China" Drummond4

Google stance on this issue is the first time a foreign firm has publicly taken a stand against China's strict censorship practices5. However Peston6 points out that Google search market share in China is significantly smaller owning 31% compared to the Chinese search engine market leader Baidu's 64%, so a decision to pull out of China may have a lower financial impact.

At this stage Google hasn't stopped its services in China. The Chinese Government has responded to Google's announcement stating that "China's internet is open and the Chinese government encourages development of the internet"7.

What happens next?

Commentators have recognised that Google stands to gain either way in this situation. China backing down and allowing greater freedom with regards to the internet would enable Google to gain a larger market share, however Shiels8 points out that "it is highly unlikely that China will relax the rules for Google, a mountain of great publicity awaits for the search giant taking such a strong stance after years of criticism. Add to that an increase in user trust that the firm has gone public over such a breach and made the right noises about security".

The US administration has also waded into this argument, urging China to relax their internet censorship policies9. Whether this is a politically motivated move, a moral stand or a commercial gamble designed to secure a larger share of the Chinese search market by providing an uncensored product to the Chinese populace, the significance of this step should not be taken for granted; only time will tell how this situation ultimately plays out.

1. BBC News. // China gives first response to Google threat. 14 Jan 2010 [Online] Available from: [Accessed 14 Jan 2010].
2. BATTELLE, J. //The Search : How google and its rival rewrote the rules of business and transformed our culture, Boston: Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2006, p64?.
3. James S. O'ROURKE I.V. Harris, B. OGILVY, A. Google in China: government censorship and corporate reputation. // Journal of Business Strategy, 2007, 28 (3) pp 12-22. [Online] Available from: [Accessed 18 Jan 2010].
4. The Official Google Blog. //A new approach to China. 12 Jan 2010 [Online] Available from: [Accessed 15 Jan 2010].
5. BBC News. Google 'may pull out of China after Gmail cyber attack'. 13 Jan 2010 [Online] Available from: [Accessed 14 Jan 2010].
6. BBC News. Google's puzzling logic. 13 Jan 2010 [Online] Available from: [Accessed 14 Jan 2010].
7. BBC News. China gives first response to Google threat. 14 Jan 2010 [Online] Available from: [Accessed 14 Jan 2010].
8. BBC News. The Google v China face-off. 13 Jan 2010 [Accessed 14 Jan 2010].
9. BBC News. China condemns 'groundless' US criticism of web control 22 Jan 2010 [Online] Available from: [Accessed 30 Jan 2010].
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