Thursday, 14 January 2010

A true hero in a silent city

Google has decided it may soon have to take steps to exit China.

"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 recognise that this may well mean having to shut down, and potentially our offices in China."
In their official statement, Google outlines why it was necessary to make this move now. The company, in order to operate in China, has had to abide my China's strict regulations with regard to information sharing, including requirements to filter any foreign content or search results which are pornographic, or politically sensitive, i.e. anti-China political/human rights sentiments.

It had to have been a very hard decision for Google to make, with China being a huge and rapidly growing market. I watched the news last night, as dozens of Chinese internet users came to the Google office with flowers and cards in support. But Google has indicated that they have "have discovered that the accounts of dozens of U.S.-, China- and Europe-based Gmail users who are advocates of human rights in China appear to have been routinely accessed by third parties."

The things we take for granted. With all the various social media out there, we have many opportunities and channels to voice our opinions, either publicly or anonymously. Sometimes, of course the freedom which we have can be used to degrade others and simply show the base side of humanity but yet it is still a freedom and I do believe we take it for granted. The Chinese policies and systems are aimed at perpetuating their own policies throughout Chinese society and effectively aims to circumvent free thinking. Where Trinidadians have flooded Facebook, the same site is blocked in China. I can almost hear the collective "OMG" around the room. lol. The Great Fire Wall, as this prohibitive policy is often called, also blocks sites like Twitter and YouTube and Blogger (OMG!), and government has increasingly put pressure on internet service providers to reveal customer information. Journalists and activists have also been arrested for not complying with the information policies of the Chinese regime.

Just Response, on its website states that
Fifty-four Chinese citizens have received prison sentences of between two and twelve years for expressing and exchanging opinions on the Internet.
Google in its statement says that this decison was made in the US without the "knowledge or involvement of our employees in China who have worked incredibly hard to make the success it is today." I do find that a bit harsh to completely leave out the people whom this move would directly impact, and hope Google will in the coming weeks treat with the sensitive human resource issues which will inevitably arise from this decision. I do not see the Chinese government budging and allowing Google to operate more freely, so their departure from a market of over 330 million internet users seems inevitable.

Today the Chinese government has responded to Google, saying "foreign internet companies are welcome" but must obey their systems of control.

It is a double edged sword in that I applaud Google for their decision - it sure took them a while though, but such a huge market must have been hard to overlook financially, huh Google? And it does raise questions about Google and how far they themselves were willing to go and for how long to tap into a market as huge as China, going against a basic human right to freedom of speech. How far was Google going to go for a dollar? But better late than never, Google and maybe this will be a lesson to other such organisations...

... and yet how does their departure now affect millions of Chinese internet users who have described Google as the "true hero in a silent city"? There are those who do not support Google, and believe the government is simply protecting the country. But there are millions who would be distressed if Google were indeed to exit the Chinese market for with their entrance in 2006, has come a new wave in the information age in a country seemingly hungry for information.

It is amazing that a country that is developing as rapidly as China is, with such a great influx of foreign investors, would still have these draconian policies with regard to freedom of speech and information. It seems almost paradoxical that globalisation has come to China and yet noone can truly, in essence, talk about it, or live it. It also begs the question, is the dollar really more important than supporting those whose freedoms have been restricted, because foreign companies are still going in to China, fully aware of these issues and not seeming to care until it affects them directly. And that is perhaps the greatest tragedy of all.

I am personally glad I can macco on Facebook! I don't that that for granted.

Photo: Associated Press


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