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June 7, 2006

Google To Reevaluate China Policy

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Sergey Brin has conceded Google may have comprised its principles when it agreed to go along with China’s demands for censorship. It is a decision Sergey says Google is now considering reversing, adding that “perhaps now the principled approach makes more sense”.

The admission isn’t what’s important. It’s not particular different from anything else we’ve heard, though it does imply guilt. What’s important here is the possible reversal of Google’s China policy, a change in course that seems may happen sooner than later.

But what sparked the sudden change of direction? Was it a result of China’s increased censorship demands? Like them blocking the U.S. Google site? Maybe Google is simply tired of taking the China flak? Or was it the news that UK reporters were boycotting Yahoo! for their own China policy? We don’t know.

The cynic in me wonders if Google China just wasn’t as profitable as Sergey and Larry would have hoped. Which strengthens the image of Google launching into China just to make a buck, not to ‘provide an effective service’ or ‘make a difference’ like Sergey originally touted. I’m sure money was involved, after all Google Incorporated is a business, but I have to hope Google did have a greater purpose in their pursuits. I don’t believe China was a decision based solely on money.

But maybe I’m naive.

If Google really did set out to ‘make a difference’, I don’t think it every fully materialized. Or at least not to the degree they wanted it to. China has been nothing but a thorn in Google’s side since Google China launched. They have been subjected to constant scrutiny over their decision to skew results, having to defend themselves at every bend. In fact, just two months ago Eric Schmidt defended Google’s decision yet again, saying comprising in China was ‘absolutely right’. Maybe at the time it was.

Today it makes sense for Google to take a step back, reconsider and reevaluate. For one, the controversy over China isn’t going away. The uproar rooted in those disagreeing with the decision isn’t dying down, and China is left always wanting more and upping demands. At some point, the investment becomes a burden. Google needs to decide if they’ve now reached that mark.

Forum members are taking Sergey’s concession and running with it, joking Google needs to come up with a new motto and chastising them for following the almighty dollar. While it’s easy to target Google and call them evil, it’s not fair. You can’t fault them for trying new ventures. You can’t fault them for trying to make good out of a not-so-good situation.

Regardless if agreeing to censorship demands in China was a good decision or a bad one, you have to respect Google for being flexible enough to readjust. Most big name companies probably wouldn’t, and you can bet if they did, they wouldn’t be as public about it.

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