It once hoped to change China with its search engine, but Google may wind up effecting more change by closing it down.
They are perhaps the most repeated, misunderstood, and beloved three words to ever be associated with Google: "don't be evil." Those words, highlighted in the company's initial public offering in 2004, underscored how differently Google wants to be thought of compared with the average corporation.
This has always been a company with a moral pulse, one that in its early days attracted a certain sort of idealistic engineer who truly believed the world could be made a better place by a responsible corporation that efficiently spread information and technology around the world.
Yet Google is also one of America's largest and richest public companies, and obsessed with growing even larger. Operating on a global scale can require even the nicest businesses and companies to rub shoulders with governments that don't share the values of Silicon Valley.
The collision of those two forces led Google into what the company founders may eventually come to consider as its worst decision: to self-censor search results in China for almost four years in hopes of improving overall access to information.
There was also a financial incentive, of course. China has the most Internet users in the world, with stunning growth over the past decade and much more in store, given that only 25 percent of the country is currently using the Internet.
But Google never seemed to be fully comfortable with its decision. Co-founder Sergey Brin told The Guardian in 2007 that Google's actions resulted in a "net negative," an engineer's way of saying that Google had lost more than it had gained in pursuing business opportunities in China.
Google lost the respect of many U.S. and European citizens, who were amazed at the way the company was able to justify
Saddled with a struggling business and a queasy stomach, Google now hopes to regain the moral high ground. It's extremely unlikely that the Chinese government will permit an uncensored search engine in China, especially after being so publicly implicated as the force behind the attacks on the accounts of Gmail users whose main offense was speaking out against that government (Google refused to point its finger directly at the Chinese government, but
Back in November,
Without prompting, Schmidt brought up Google's decision to enter China as an example of how that process works. "Certainly, the China decision, which was very controversial at the time, but I think ultimately, the right one for us, is another example of a tortured internal discussion, which ultimately came to roughly, the right outcome," he said.
The discovery of cyberattacks originating from China against Google seems to have finally tipped that debate for Google. It's now clear that Google believes it erred in making the decision to get in bed with the Chinese government back in 2006, regardless of whether that revelation comes from business reasons or moral reasons.
Google has now put American Internet information companies doing business in China
Google could have changed the way Internet companies work in China Tuesday. It once hoped for something much more.
By Tom Krazit