Incognito sent me a link to this article, with the comment: “‘don’t be evil’ went out the window pretty fast eh?”
He got that right.
Naturally Google management rationalizes its cooperation with the Chinese police state as being for the greater good, but I don’t get this as a business decision. Imagine how much good will they could have bought with their other customers by telling the commies to take a hike. I think it might have been good for business in the long run, a force multiplier. As a first-line tech company the example they could have set might have done a lot of good for everyone by showing that it is possible to say no. (How many big companies would have to say no before the Chinese government blinked? Maybe not so many.)
Google’s Achilles heel is its founders’ hubris. Some of the company’s products override customers’ hierarchies in an attempt to impose Google’s search algorithm as the best solution to all problems. (See here for my own complaints.) These are the guys who bought a Boeing jet for personal use and rationalized it as a business decision. It’s their money, and maybe the purchase made sense on the numbers, but they should have known how it was going to play as PR. Or maybe they knew and didn’t care. In the perfect world there would be no penalty for attitude, but in the real world Google is vulnerable to political assaults, and it might not hurt the company to have a rep for principled, pro-freedom behavior. As it is they come across as just another bunch of driven, amoral business cynics, which is, perhaps not coincidentally, how Bill Gates was widely perceived before he got into trouble with the government.
UPDATE: Some of the reactions to Google’s behavior remind me of the Smith & Wesson boycott. The Google situation is different, because some of Google’s competitors, such as Yahoo! and Microsoft, seem to be acting at least as unscrupulously as Google is, but some of the anti-Google sentiments seem remarkably similar to those once expressed about S&W.
UPDATE 2: That didn’t take long. Here’s a report on What Google censors in China that compares Google’s search results with those of its chief competitors.