Google in China
In 1998, Sergey Brin and Larry Page were graduate students at Stanford University when they developed a new approach for Internet online searches. They called it Google, named after a mathematical term for a 1 followed by 100 zeros. It represents the immense amount of information available on the World Wide Web.
Among the documents presented during the initial public offering of Google stock in 2004, Brin and Page included a "founder's letter" in which they proclaimed "Don't Be Evil" as a corporate goal. Their mission was to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful to everyone.
Earlier this year, in the spirit of their "Don't Be Evil" motto, Google defied U.S. government requests to reveal information about the online behavior of its users. The idealism of the original founders had remained steadfast.
Unfortunately, the world has many dark corners ruled by tyrants who demand conformity and obedience.
In order to operate an Internet business in China, companies must comply with strict repressive regulations that prevent any information deemed objectionable by the Communist government. Subjects such as Taiwan independence, Tibetan independence, the Tiananmen Square incident and individual freedom are forbidden.
After much corporate angst, Google recently became the latest U.S. Internet company to enter the Chinese market, offering only Internet searching, but no e-mail, blogging, video or messaging will be made available.
"While removing search results is inconsistent with Google's mission, providing no information is more inconsistent with our mission," stated Andrew McLaughlin, Google's senior policy counsel. Co-founder's Brin and Page affirmed that Google is "a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short-term goals. We aspire to make Google an institution that makes the world a better place."
And therein lies the problem. When complying with a repressive government, are you helping the suppressed citizens by providing access to more information (albeit limited) over the Internet or are you further repressing the citizens by cooperating with the repressors, thereby giving tacit approval of the excessive restrictions?
China, like many places on this earth, is a terribly oppressive place. There are some 300,000 political dissidents presently being held in "reeducation through labor" camps without trial. Less than 5 percent of criminal trials include witnesses, and the conviction rate is 99.7 percent. Because the 2008 Olympics will be held in China, 400,000 residents of Beijing have been forcibly evicted from their homes in preparation for the event.
The residents of China are wandering around in a fog of illusion. The communist government owns and operates all TV and radio stations. Naturally, reality is distorted to favor communism and reject individuality. The government also monitors phone calls, faxes, e-mails and text messages, and opens and censures mail. This is a great place to live if you're a mindless robot. If you're a thinking human being, this is worse than Cleveland.
Under communism, individuals are considered to be property of the state and treated in whatever manner the government chooses for the perceived betterment of the whole. In a free society, individuals are protected under a series of rights preventing the government from treating them as property of the state, thereby creating a more open society which inherently works for the betterment of the whole because freedom breeds innovation.
The Web is a collection of data and ideas created by everyone and available to everyone. A government that determines what information you are allowed to consider is despicable. Freedom of thought is the most basic of all freedoms. A government that controls your thought process is retarding the evolution of your soul.
Google was in an awkward position. If they were to enter the Chinese market, they would provide a valuable product to the populace but would be forced to conspire with a repressive government to manipulate the truth. If they were to ignore China, the people would simply use other Internet services to obtain the same censored, altered reality.
"Don't Be Evil" is an admirable motto, but on planet Earth the lesser of two evils is often the only option.
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Bret Burquest is an award-winning columnist and author of four novels, which are available at Amazon.com. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.