Quietly in the background of other news this morning (1/13/2010), there has been a statement from Google: that they will end the censoring of searches in China (it has been pointed out to me that there was a segment on 1/13 on Newshour. At the time of my publishing this, it had yet to hit the front page of mainstream news, such as the NYT, local newspapers, or other such media. I am also unable to find at what time Newshour released its article, but believe it was in the evening). According to Google, this could end with Google.cn closing for business. Why would Google pull out of China? Because they used Google to launch attacks against human rights workers in China and across the globe.
I am glad that Google is taking a strong stand against cyberattacks, and hope that they follow through with their threat. China has long been suspected of being a haven for cybercriminals, and for government sponsorship of cybercrime. However, businesses, seeing lucrative profits in the rapidly growing economy, have been willing to pander to Chinese interests so they could gain access. Supporting economic growth is one thing; standing aside while human rights watchers’ accounts are violated, while the government cracks down on free speech, and essentially just turning your head is another.
Why is Google’s involvement and taking a stance so critical? Because Google is the 1,000 lb gorilla in the room. Yes, some search engines will fill in the void if google closes down google.cn, but google.com still operates (for those who can use english), and other companies might also finally find the leadership and courage that it takes to stand against oppression. It has always seemed odd to me, that the same media that always cries for freedom in the US, is so willing to bow to demands for censorship in other countries. After all, there is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Q&A on the Declaration), which was broadly adopted (although without any binding legal force), by the United Nations. China has also ratified other humans rights documents.
As with most cases of international law, it is hard to enforce. China may say that it will protect human rights, but until the consumers and corporations which provide the lifeblood to the economy demand that those rights be enforced, it will do as it wills. Hopefully Google will be a step in the right direction.