Sat, Aug 04, 2018 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Google China move spells trouble

The lure of the fabled “China market” has been enticing Western traders and companies, as well as other Asians, for centuries, an attraction that grew exponentially in the 20th century, along with China’s burgeoning population, despite political upheavals and other problems.

That it has proven to be a poisoned apple for many has failed to discourage others, and the Chinese Communist Party has learned to use access to its citizens as a cudgel to get the trade, economic, political and even military benefits it seeks.

Taiwanese have increasingly paid the price for that demand for access to the Chinese market, as governments and international corporations grow ever more reluctant to stand up to Beijing’s demands for fear of losing access, as most recently demonstrated with international airlines giving in to demands that they list the nation’s airports as being in China, despite the condemnation of many in their home nations.

However, Chinese suffer as well, although many do not realize it, as they lack the unfettered access to the rest of the world that many other nationalities take for granted, despite their newfound ability to travel to other countries.

Beijing’s Great Firewall, which censors Internet searches and blocks social media sites — except for the favored few or the censors themselves — is designed to keep them ignorant.

So it was disappointing to many Google employees, and those outside the company, to learn on Wednesday that the company has been secretly developing an Android mobile app specially designed to comply with China’s censorship rules — eight years after company founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin pulled out of China over censorship concerns.

The new app will reportedly filter Web sites blocked by the Great Firewall and blacklist queries deemed to be sensitive. The company is reportedly also working on a second app, a news aggregator, for the Chinese market as well.

For the world’s major search engine, whose raison d’entre has long been the Internet’s freedom, to take such a step is not just morally problematic, it raises major questions about freedom of information for the rest of the world as well, at a time when democracies worldwide are struggling to deal with social media manipulation by hostile governments and groups, and attacks on traditional media outlets by politicians.

It also shows a willing blindness to ignore not only world politics, but its own corporate history.

After all, Google tried playing by Beijing’s rules when it launched Google.cn in 2006, rationalizing that agreeing to censor some results was a small price to pay for “increased access to information for people in China and a more open Internet,” as it said at the time.

However, four years later, a phishing attack targeting the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights advocates led the company to end Google.cn.

Several reports about the new search app described Google chief executive Sundar Pichal as being “more pragmatic” than his predecessors about working in China, noting that the company has invested in several Chinese firms and has several apps, such as Google Translate and Files Go, for Chinese developers to use.

Pragmatic? Perhaps Pichal just has a different definition of the Google code of conduct motto: “Do the right thing.”

If the Chinese government does approve the new censor-friendly app, it will undoubtedly use the return of a Google search engine as a weapon in its propaganda war against reality.

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