Google’s going to China now. I have noticed one interesting thing about how this decision is framed, both by Google and by Google’s supporters and critics and other members of the online peanut gallery. It’s framed as a pro/con binary decision: either go into China officially and accept the cooperation with and profitting from Red opression that comes with it, or keep your hands clean while denying China access to Google (and denying Google access to China).
That’s a pretty thick way of looking at it. It’s convenient way for those who prefer black and white to colour, sure– Google would like to put it in terms of a difficult decision between staying true to their abstract principles and “at least doing something” for the Chinese people. Conversely critics look at it as yet another real-world epic Faustian tale, the good old company growing up and becoming corrupted, selling its ethics out for the promise of cold, hard cash and glory.
But I can’t understand why Google can’t eat their cake and still have it too. The way they are approaching the problem now, claiming they have decided to go into China and that’s it, let’s go in full hog and make the best of it. Why? That sort of attitude makes it really appear disingenuous. What exactly is so all-or-nothing about going into China?
Here is what I challenge Google to do, if they really do believe in any of the principles which they have convinced us so well that they do: Go on into China if that’s what you really believe is the best thing for the world right now. Go ahead. But don’t take a penny from them. Making the best of a bad situation is one thing. Profitting from evil and passing the profits through the financial system, reinforcing the evil incentives, is another, and quite a different one.
Google has always been a different company, and so far they have shown that being public doesn’t preclude having principles and vision. So put your money where your mouth is. Don’t keep a dime of the net profit you get from China. Do what you will with it, donate it to the EFF or another online freedom advocating organisation, or to the Google foundation or even to your local church if that’s what you want. There is absolutely nothing moral about permitting yourself to accept profit from such a tainted source, and really much worse, to permit it to corrupt others. As an innovative company, they ought to come up to innovative solutions to all kinds of difficult complex problems, regardless of whether they are technical or ethical. This is one. Is Google innovative or are they becoming just like everyone else? Put your money where your mouth is, Google.