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Emerging Issue – Google v. China

by on January 20, 2010

Google’s announcement that it would cease censorship of search results in China on January 12, 2010 pitted the corporate giant against a foreign government, triggering an ideological battle between Western ‘new economy’ values and one of the world’s largest political and economic regimes.  In the West, Google was branded as ‘the good guy’ in the standoff, even as bloggers and Tweeters guessed at the real short-term impact of Google’s business strategy, as well as the corporation’s motives.

With this move, Google exercised a great deal of its accumulated good will and brand power in the West to support its decision, and implied that the censorship required by the Chinese government ran contrary to the Google vision statement: “Don’t be evil.”  Conversely, other U.S.-based search companies, such as Microsoft and Yahoo!, cited their responsibility to adhere to local laws and regulations when operating in a foreign country in order to defend their continued compliance with the censorship standards.

In fact, Google’s own operational practices include such strategies as indexing customer e-mails for targeted advertising – leading one to conclude that it is acceptable for a corporation to track and use individuals’ data, but that government control or monitoring of online information is unacceptable.  The power of Google’s vision statement and the Western attitude of public trust in private companies blur a value judgment of the ‘good guy’ in this battle of the titans.    

Finally, in terms of management strategy, Google’s leadership appears to have made a financially and operationally acceptable decision in ending cooperation with the censorship in the short run.   But in the long term, who has more to lose if Google withdraws from operating in China: the people of China, or Google?


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