Two months ago, Google threatened to shut down its China search engine over censorship. Yet until today, its China search engine has stayed up with results still censored. Now the search company is finally expected to announce that it’s going to actually follow through and slowly shut down its China search engine.
So why does it feel like Google’s impending decision will not have the impact it could have had two months ago?
When Google first made its declaration, the implications seemed enormous. One of the world’s largest technology companies was reigniting the censorship debate. Governments and activists would query China over the Google attacks and the state of free speech in its country, while Google would be taking the moral high ground as it walked away from one of the world’s largest markets due to principle.
Instead, we’ve had a two month “will they or won’t they?” type of affair that even Google’s co-founder said could take a year or two to resolve. Now that the end game may be close, what will happen when Google actually pulls out of the world’s most populated nation?
The answer, sadly, is not much.
Google Is Trying to Have Its Cake And Eat It Too
Ever since the company’s bold statement on censorship in China, it has kept quiet publicly. Privately however, the company has been in talks with the Chinese government over its operations in the Asian nation. Google’s attempts to run its search engine unfiltered though seem to have failed — not a big surprise for those of us who have been tracking the Chinese government’s Internet policies.
Now the heart of the issue seems to be that Google doesn’t want to completely leave China, even if it does shut down its search engine. The company would like to keep operations in the country. The fallout from the Google-China dispute has already affected Android, which is something the company cannot afford to lose in such a budding market.
Has Google’s resolve wavered? It’s tough to tell, but my guess would be no — it will stay true to its word and shut down the Google China search engine if it cannot serve unfiltered search results.
What is happening though is this: it is trying to have the rest of its China pie while coming out looking like the good guys. Operations in advertising, mobile, and non-search fields would stay open, keeping Google’s foothold in China. At the same time, it could take its moral stand.
A Rock and a Hard Place
The problem though is that the message it wanted to send has already been lost. China has won. Its laws have not changed, the damage to China has been minimal at best, and it looks like it will get to keep one of the world’s most powerful technology companies within its borders. Google, on the other hand, has lost much of the shine from its original announcement, will soon give up a small but valuable piece of the Chinese search market, and has weakened its other initiatives in the communist nation.
After Google was hacked, it was put in between a rock and a hard place. Its actions, while still bold, will not change how things are done in China. Its indecisiveness with how to proceed has made the pressure on China all but evaporate.
Google’s going to finally make the stand it promised to make two months ago. It’s unfortunate that it allowed time to rust the shine of its declaration and take away much of the principle and authority that made the decision so powerful and inspiring.