Google has now become the stuff of skepticism and parody. You ask me why? The answer is because, once revolutionary, Google’s sensibility has watered down and adopted by much of the rest of the tech industry.
Seemingly, Google has changed its mind. Under a plan called Dragonfly, the company has been testing a censored version of its search engine for the Chinese market. Sundar Pichai, Google’s CEO revealed in a meeting with his employees last week that, “we are not close to launching” a search engine in China, but he defended the company’s exploration of the market.
Now the question is, wasn’t standing apart assumed to be the characteristic of Google’s Googliness? Bidding adieu to China was the kind of eccentric decision that the search engine once revelled in — a step that forfeited financial prosperity for the moral high ground, that sent the message to customers and employees that Google with its Earth-swallowing mission to organize all of life’s information, had something more in its mind other than financial ambition.
Ben Wizner, director of the Speech, Privacy and Technology Project at the American Civil Liberties Union said, “If Google wants to be judged like any other global company, that’s fine. They should just say so — that their principal obligation is to their shareholders and their bottom line. But that has not been the rhetoric coming out of Google, and I think it’s fair to judge them by the standards they have set for themselves.”
All the while, the company said in a blog post that “filtering our search results clearly compromises our mission” it further added, “Failing to offer Google search at all to a fifth of the world’s population, however, does so far more severely.”
However, other factors can also be cited behind Google’s potential reversal. Since 2010, the internet has changed therefore, the company’s executives have started their decision to leave China as naïve, rash, and ultimately counterproductive.
The search giant’s decision was triggered by a Chinese hack into its services meant to uncover spies and dissidents. The attack angered and shocked Google’s founders.
Born and brought up in the Soviet Union, Mr. Brin compared the Chinese government to the “totalitarian forces” that had impacted his youth. Other executives including him suggested that taking a stand in China may set a kind of red line for authoritarian regimes elsewhere.
Mr. Brin told The Times, “I think that in the long term, they are going to have to open.”
Rebecca MacKinnon, an internet freedom advocate at New America, a think tank expressed her concern over the ongoing debate, “This argument makes me very sad: The world is becoming more like China, so therefore we might as well be in China. The advocates of free speech and human rights had long found Google to be an ally in their efforts, and that a reversal in China would be regarded as a major defeat.”
Mr. Wizner of the A.C.L.U said, “If Google is trying to promote openness and free societies, then transparency is going to be an insufficient way to make this better. The transparency would be aimed at the rest of the world. Google wouldn’t be telling Chinese people, ‘Here’s what you can’t see.’”
Sure, it’s early, and Google’s plans are not clear. There remains the possibility that Google will think of some completely nontraditional way to satisfy China’s censors without losing its soul.
But that seems unlikely. The more plausible conclusion is the more obvious one: Google took on China, and Google lost.