In 2010, Google made a major decision to withdraw from Chinese search engine services. Google said the move was made amid a complex interplay of ethical, legal and business considerations. At the heart of the decision is a conflict between Google’s policy of providing unrestricted access to information and China’s strict internet censorship laws, maintained by the “Great Firewall.” The company said surveillance and censorship were the main motivations for its exit. Furthermore, what challenges does a multinational company like Google face when trying to adhere to certain principles while operating in a market with very different values and legal frameworks, such as China, which has a diametrically opposed political system? As we all know, this is a rare case of a large company exiting the market due to corporate values and legal issues. It’s worth noting, what’s behind this censorship?
Google search engine is the main portal for most netizens to obtain network information and occupies an important position in the field of information warfare. Its algorithms determine the ranking and visibility of information and can significantly influence public opinion and discourse (Metaxa & Torres-Echeverry, 2017). The monopolistic control and proprietary nature of Google’s algorithms may distort the flow of information, thereby affecting the democratic process (Kulathuramaiyer & Balke, 2006).
The regulatory framework, or lack thereof, may impact how Google deals with misinformation, privacy, data protection and other key digital rights (Hall, 2012). In countries where internet regulation is lax or non-existent, Google’s platform can be exploited to spread misinformation or propaganda, a hallmark of information warfare. Conversely, in regions where the Internet is heavily regulated, Google may be forced to comply with state censorship and thus become an unwitting actor in information control (Lee, 2010).
The vast troves of data Google has amassed from its search engine and other services provide a potential treasure trove for those involved in information warfare. These data can be used to tailor misinformation or propaganda to specific groups of people, amplifying the impact of information warfare (Mackay & Munro, 2012).
So Google probably didn’t know it would be so powerful because it started out as a company that could make money from its products. Will Google now discover its added value as a key to information warfare? Trump’s attitude toward Google is telling.
The Chinese government’s requirements for the Internet
China’s approach to internet management is characterized by the “Great Firewall,” a complex system of censorship and surveillance that filters and monitors internet content. This mechanism allows the Chinese government to block content it deems to be politically sensitive or harmful to social harmony, while controlling information about its domestic and international policies and actions.
The Chinese government’s Great Firewall is known as the “Great Wall.” The Great Wall is a city wall that has long been used in ancient China to defend against attacks by northern peoples. The Chinese government has built a Great Wall on the Internet. What it has to do is not just filter and monitor the Internet, but defend an information war and a public opinion war. Therefore, the Chinese government views the Internet with a strategic vision and crisis awareness. Does Google know how important he is in this war? As a very powerful platform, Google believes it can become a powerful weapon. As mentioned in the Guardian article below, Google has a huge influence on how people are perceived today, and that perception can cut across racial, ethnic and partisan lines.
Clearly, China’s approach is unique and contrasts sharply with the open internet models of many other countries. Is this because of China’s uniqueness or the hostile relationship between China and the United States? I think this may be a new round of competition between the Chinese Communist government and the United States after the end of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union.”
The below is excerpted from The Guardian post about analyze google
When two parties appear at the negotiating table
In the early 2000s, the lure of the booming Chinese market attracted tech giant Google. The first difficulty on the negotiating table is the strict Internet censorship policy implemented by the Chinese government (MacKinnon, 2008).
A major point of contention has arisen around the requirement to set up servers on Chinese soil, a move required by laws governing the data of Chinese citizens. Google views this requirement as not only a financial burden but also a potential threat to user privacy. Google’s subsequent compromise means that Google may not have realized at the time that it could become a tool for public opinion warfare and information warfare.
Google acquiesced to the demands and set up servers in Beijing, which it viewed as a major compromise to the ethos of its operations. The real bone of contention, however, has emerged over the Chinese government’s apparent favoritism toward local internet company Baidu, Google’s main rival in the region. The Chinese government gives Baidu very favorable treatment at the expense of Google. (Barbosa, 2010)
Google believes that without government policy decisions, market share and even profits will be significantly affected. In fact, Beijing’s purpose is already obvious. Beijing’s multiple attacks on Google are aimed at taking full control of Google’s operations in China. But Beijing came up with a better solution: Use Baidu to convince Google to quit.
Baidu can supervise directly, but Google, as an American company, is not directly governed by Chinese law. Regulation can only be achieved through negotiation. The Chinese government’s direct intervention in Baidu has distorted the competitive landscape and made it difficult for Google to gain significant market share. The situation was further exacerbated by the financial charges Google previously charged to comply with Chinese regulatory requirements, eroding the company’s profit margins.
The end result of these factors is a loss of operating profits for Google and pressure from Beijing to impose a regulatory framework. This eventually led to the Beijing server being moved to Hong Kong. (Clark & Lee, 2010).
The last straw was when people realized that the Chinese government was unwilling to compromise on its Internet regulatory authority, and it took steps to support Baidu as an efficient technology product under the centralized Internet.
The Chinese government hopes to take the initiative on the Internet and consolidate its power. This is definitely a direct blow to Google’s spirit of fair competition and user-centered operations. Google’s case is also a signal sent by the Chinese government to the outside world, which is why many Western technology giants such as Facebook cannot enter the Chinese market.
The Chinese government supports many local Chinese technology platforms to operate the Internet environment within the Great Wall of China to fully control the strategic value of the Internet. But this of course violates free speech and democratic process
The final outcome of the negotiations
To sum up, the reason for the conflict between the two parties is that the two parties have completely different views on the Internet. Google will definitely put users first, and the Chinese government will definitely put the country’s stability first. What Google wants is a democratic Internet environment. This is a feature of Google’s products and has a direct impact on Google’s profits. The Chinese government must control public opinion and maintain social stability
What can be said is that due to the centralized system of China’s political system, Beijing hopes to have a completely controllable Internet information environment, and Google does not want users to become constrained tools, thereby losing the motivation of Google’s original intention. This should be the reason why Google left China. But for now, will Google realize its power and understand what the Chinese government wants and return to the Chinese market? Like Microsoft, which has a monopoly in China, it has completely succumbed to Chinese government censorship.