Friday, January 15, 2010
A tale of misadventure in a strange marriage
Change of heart : google.cn
Google was mesmerised by China’s rapidly expanding internet market. This was well over 4 years ago. But China, till then, had kept Google at arm’s length by intermittently blocking Google.com and making even that intermittent access snail slow. Baidu wooed and dominated the Chinese market, laughing (at Google) on its way to the bank. Google courted China with a pruned and ‘more decent’ version of its search engine. Apparently, it must have thought to itself that better something than nothing at all. Throwing caution to the wind, it set forth to milk the Chinese cow.
The elders met, the horoscopes were matched and the marriage was fixed. Was it meant to last? Or was it just mAdSense? Google penetrated the Chinese search engine market with a view of being the leading search engine in China in the long haul. Now, it announces its threat to review the future of the relationship and possibly pull out of the Chinese search engine market. It has cited infection by the plague of hackers and woes of the ‘finger-on-the-lip’ policy to have agonised it. Even Uncle (Sam) Obama had obliquely deplored the Comstockery, when he toured the country in November. But China wouldn’t listen. Eventually pushing Google to separate the master bed, or maybe even, leave the bedroom for good.
China is no cow; it’s a fire breathing dragon. Google risks scathing its private parts.
China: being the nasty in-law
Why? Check this out :
- China blocked Youtube when it hosted some videos of Chinese law-enforcers brutally beating Tibetan monks.
- China banned access to Picassa shortly after.
- China wouldn’t let anyone access Blogger from its communist land
- China made a huge hue and cry about violations of copyrights in its Google Books venture
- China is also said to have made “highly sophisticated and targeted attack” on its corporate computer systems “originating from China” in December.
But Google isn’t the only one in the sorrow-ship
- China pretended to open its arms to these sites in the build-up to the Beijing Olympics in August 2008 as it tried to project a more open and liberal image to foreign delegates and visitors. But no sooner did the lights go off at the stadium, that restrictions have been amplified to unprecedented levels
- China has prevented the masses from any access to the world wide web, forget any access to uncensored news, in the regions afflicted by ethnic disturbances.
- China met Twitter and Facebook with the same cold hostility.
- China wouldn’t hear a word against itself and proceeded to block leading international newspapers such as the Guardian, the New York Times, even the Economist, for days at length.
Google would perhaps be among the first of the big brands and heavy weights to openly attribute its withdrawal to the lack of freedom of expression. While Silicon valley praises Google for taking some guts to make such bold statements, the White House pats Google’s back assuring its (Washington’s) support. Even if standing up against China is part of its long-term interests, there is no discounting the fact that Google has ‘the balls’ to walk away from the world’s largest potential market.
A broken family?
We must remember, though, that such direct finger-pointing isn’t going to do down very well with China. Even while it buries news articles about Google’s threat, it seeks to portray the entire event as a hollow gimmick and a narrow commercial dispute rather than a pressing political one. It even shies away from taking Google’s name directly reminiscent of rural Indian women refusing to take their husband’s name.
- What about the future?
- Will about the 700 or so people whose families earn their daily bread because of Google?
- Will the backlash lead China to impose a Great Wall on all Google services and block it in its entirety?
- What about the sale of Google’s merchandise?
- What about the Google android and its younger sibling that is still in the womb?
- Will they do well in the renminbi markets?
In all probability, the Beijing may not vent the fire of their anger directly on Google because of increasing public sentiment of sympathy among the Chinese netizens for Google’s spasm on censorship, among other reasons. Beinjing may instead choose to turn the fire elsewhere by stirring up a little nationalist and (the suppressed) anti-American sentiment on another front (Taiwan?).