Is this the Google.cn masterplan?

In one of the most remarkable blog posts ever, Google has disclosed a systematic attack on its operations with the primary goal monitoring the emails of human rights activitists in China. As a result, Google has decided to end its censorship at google.cn and has apparently left it to the Chinese government to decide whether to close down Google’s operations. To say that the game is afoot is an understatement.

What is interesting is that compared with three years ago, Google is in a much stronger position. Whole segments of the Chinese economy now rely on Internet access and if Google were to be shut down, what would happen? Microsoft’s Bing or Yahoo! could keep going but under censorship — something that might leave them open to a backlash in the rest of the world. This is the first shot in a major battle.

The question is whether this was some part of Google’s strategy all along. To widespread condemnation it allowed censorship so as to get a foothold in China. But that may well have been the best way to grow the Internet and connectivity for that economy with the goal — when the time was right or as a result of some other trigger — to refusing to be censored. I guess we may never know. But this game is larger than the simple business motivations seemingly driving things a few years back.

9 thoughts on “Is this the Google.cn masterplan?”

  1. Kudos to Google, but remember that Baidu have over 60% of the Chinese search engine market. So Google, Bing & Yahoo aren’t necessarily as essential there as in the West.
    (in fact, one comment on Techcrunch suggested that Google’s declining marketshare in China was another factor that helped them reach this decision)

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  2. I think the better question might be: Was this part of the Chinese government’s master plan all along?
    The master plan being: Let Google set up shop in China (as long as results are censored), handicap Google’s chances of success by supporting for the local rival (Baidu) — and then hack into Google’s systems for surveillance and intellectual property theft.
    Worst case scenario: Google leaves, in which case the Chinese native search engine Baidu becomes stronger.

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  3. I wonder if we assume too much of Google’s strategic intent. When your corporate motto is “do no evil”, the alternative of ‘business as usual’  is probably no longer viable – at least to their Western stakeholders.

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  4. Bo, I think that’s a stretch. I think the PRC authorities new that Google would help to reduce information trade barriers thus increasing GDP and revenue.
    I’m not sure about the actual adoption rate of internet in China but I reckon 31% market share of China search requests (as reported on the BBC) is still a good level from a financial perspective – I guess that would be more than the population of Australia and some more.
    There’s something in the back of my mind telling me that Google is playing hardball and its not bluffing with the PRC authorities to get off its back with filtering regulations and then on top of that the backhander with attempts to access email accounts.
    Will Google bend the PRC authorities? I think not.

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  5. Today’s Age has an artice written by William Pesak of Bloomberg News in which he quotes that Google derives approximately US600 million of revenue from China. As a number of  international companies operating in China have discovered, they may not actually make a profit despite the commercial potential.

    I can’t find any public financial data issued by Google that documents detailed financials based on geographical region. Knowing this fact might put Google’s decision in context. It’s easier to be ethical when you are not putting a profit at risk. Such a move may make a virtue out of a necessity.

    Read the following link for another take on Google’s stance.
    http://www.techcrunch.com/2010/01/12/google%e2%80%99s-china-stance-more-about-business-than-thwarting-evil/

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