Of late, Google has come under fire for its Project dragonfly. The company has been secretly developing a search engine for China which its expected, will comply more closely with Chinese local law. Google faced public ire over this, and many of its employees resigned in protest. CEO Sundar Pichai however, has defended his company’s actions at a recent summit.
What’s interesting about Google’s attempt to enter the Chinese market with a search engine that it appears, would conform to the government’s policies, is the fact that it had pulled out of China in 2010 over similar concerns. In a statement made almost a decade ago about discontinuing Google.cn, the search engine giant had said it was pulling out due to sophisticated cyber attack and government’s efforts to impose limits on what the population could access by restricting content.
However, it seems like the lure of China’s vast market is proving too much to ignore for the company. Even from the statements being made by the leadership, it appears that it has made its peace to bowing its head to ensure business.
Why is this worrying? Not because Chinese folks won’t be able to watch certain music videos, or because memes about the government will be blocked. Lives can be affected and collusion between tech companies that supposedly evangelize freedom of speech and government, can have real repercussions. Case in point: Yahoo China bowing down to the government, leading to the imprisonment of journalist Shi Tao.
If you remember, Shi Tao was a editor at the Contemporary Trade News newspaper in Changsha. In April 2010, Shi received access to documents sent from Beijing, detailing how to avoid social unrest in the run-up to the 50th anniversary of the June 4, Tiananmen Square crackdown. Shi was a Yahoo China mail customer, and used his account to send mails to a pro-democracy Chinese group in the US. The Chinese government got wind of the mail, asked Yahoo China to hand over details of the account which sent the mail, which it promptly did.
Compare the statement made by Google CEO Sundar Pichai, at the very recent SF Wired summit:
People don’t understand fully, but you’re always balancing a set of values when entering new countries, but we also follow the rule of law in every country.
With those made by Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang, in the case of Chinese journalist Shi Tao:
Shi Tao was imprisoned and tortured, his family was harassed, and he was sent to jail for 10 years after a summary 2-hours trial. At that time, Jerry Wang had also added:
I do not like the outcome of what happens with these things……But we have to follow the law.
None of which did a damn thing to change what happened with Tao – and probably many other unnamed people. And Google’s stance regarding project dragonfly appears to be quite similar, just compare the statements. The Chinese government hasn’t changed much over the past decade with regards to its internet policies, so its safe to assume that it is Google that has decided to play along.
We will wait for any statements or indication from the company, that promise to prove otherwise.