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Google: Smoke Clears and the Waffling Starts

I was on my way home from some errands and had NPR's All Things Considered on the radio when, lo and behold, there was Google (GOOG) chief legal officer David Drummond answering some questions. His responses showed just how much PR mileage the search engine giant had gained, because what he said didn't quite match the earnest human rights patina the company seemed to have gained over the last few hours when it said that it would no longer filter Internet searches for Chinese users and would consider leaving that market.

When asked if Google had actually lifted the filters censoring search results, Drummond said, "No, we haven't done that yet. What we've said is that going forward, we're going to end that practice. We have asked the government to start some discussions with us about how we can operate an unfiltered search engine in China and, failing that, we will have to shut it down but ... or do something else, but as of right now it's operating business as we were until we talk to the government."

Then the host noted that the Chinese government had publicly rebuked the notion of removing filters and said that foreign Internet companies must follow the law and asked how Google responded to that. Drummond's response? "Well, we hope that there will be some more conversations. We understand that was an initial response and at the end of the day, if it's their view that an uncensored search engine ... that we can't do that in China, we will have to do something different. It could be shutting the site down."

Asked if Google held the Chinese government directly responsible for the hacking, Bull Dog Drummond said, "No, we don't have definitive evidence one way or the other that the government was involved. We know that it was a highly sophisticated attack, it was an organized attack, and it was politically motivated, in the sense that there seemed to be clear targeting of human rights activists who were interested in China."

Did Google sacrifice principles of free speech for a business deal? "I don't think that's accurate. It's never been a bit market for us. Even now it's an immaterial portion of our revenues. I think we wanted to serve the Chinese market and feel that we had a responsibility to do that. There are sort of two different moral arguments you can make. One of them is to say that there's censorship and we're not going to have anything to do with it, which was our position for a long time with China. And the other one is to say, 'Well, maybe it's better, in a place like China, given its scope in the world, its impact in the world, to go there and try to be a force for opening it up."

Mighty stands the corporate tower of Jell-O. This hasn't been a positioned stand. It's not even based on business principles. It's only a negotiating stance by a group of executives -- who seem less and less savvy to me by the day -- who think that what works in Mountain View works in Beijing. From what I understand of international business and cultural negotiation styles, this is foolish.

Ah, so much sturm, so little drang.

Image via Flickr user Crinity, CC 2.0.

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