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.