Thursday, February 02, 2006

Gateway to Information or Tool of Oppression?

Google has been in the midst of a debate about its action of allowing the Chinese communist government to censor Google's search results in China.

On one side of the argument it is becoming a tool of oppression for the Chinese government as Chinese citizens are not being allowed access to "sensitive" information. A company, whose motto is "Don't be evil", should not become a partner of some government willing to do evil by only allowing filtered information to get through to the masses.

On the other hand, why should Google care about how it manages to penetrate a controlled market? It is in the business of making money and it can choose to make reasonable decisions to improve its bottomline. Politics should be left for the governments.

On principle, it should not have gone in, but lets be practical here. How can Google be labelled as becoming a tool of oppression while others are merrily doing business with the oppressors? If Google decides not to go in, can Google be assured that no other American company will do business with the Chinese? Why should some companies be allowed to do business there while others can't? Who will make sure others don't go to China? Well, no one can, and hence Google's choice is valid.

Besides, there is one more very strong reason which is often overlooked. Its digital filtering. No computer system is that solid that it won't have bugs or allow tweaks and easter bunnies to sneak in. Its software after all. Would you rather that Chinese people do not have access to any information at all or that they have access to some information? I would choose to let them have some access rather than none. Perhaps minds can be transformed by ideas expressed in ways which are not obvious to censorship boards. At least we have some form of a channel of communication.

Here are some of the differences between and

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