Still Not Evil. (warning: ranty)
Saturday, February 18, 2006 - 2:00 PM
So there's been much sound and fury recently over Google's entry into the Chinese search market, because that entry has required them to self-censor. It's been widely reported that searches on the new google.cn for "Tiananmen Square", for example, return no mention of the 1989 massacre which dominates Western searches for the term.
(In fact, it does: the fourth result down at this moment is an English-language site detailing the massacre with a series of photographs. Warning: dead people. It's my suspicion that this site made it onto this search page via Google-bombing, the same tactic which gave us the famous Google result for "miserable failure". It's also my suspicion that that page won't be on the search results for long.)
Numerous organizations, including upstanding ones like "Reporters Without Borders" and less upstanding ones like the House of Representatives, have come out strongly against Google's agreement to self-censor in order to be allowed to play ball in the lucrative and rapidly-growing Chinese marketplace. I agree strongly with their main points: censorship is bad, and colluding with dictatorial regimes in the interest of money is surely worse.
But there is
another side to the story, and despite my usual bias against people defending their own profit-making enterprises by couching them in morality, I think it deserves a look.
Google claims, essentially, that access to some information is better than access to no information. This is not true in all cases (propaganda, anyone?), and if Google were in fact simply making a "me-too" dive into a market already populated by Microsoft and Yahoo, it wouldn't be true here. But Google has made apparently earnest efforts to make sure that search censorship is as far from information censorship as they can possibly make it. Alone of the Big Three western search engines, Google.cn includes, at the bottom of the page, a big black bold warning:
It translates roughly into, "In accordance with local laws and regulations, and Google's policy, some of your search results were not displayed." The warning appears under searches for censored topics such as "Tienanmen Square", but not for other stuff. This statement has been criticized as a pathetic, flaccid attempt at whitewashing a flagrant attack on free speech, but c'mon guys: I think we all know the difference between being told that X is true, and being told that X is true but you're not getting the full story. It's not like the Chinese population doesn't know its government censors stuff, and putting up a little red flag over precisely what's been censored is far and away better than not. The warning itself is information, and powerful information at that. Neither Yahoo nor Microsoft serves such a warning.
Now, again, clearly free speech is good and colluding with dictators for cash is bad. But why didn't Microsoft and Yahoo get called before Congress when they went in, scores of months ago? Why, when Yahoo and Google did get called before Congress this last Wednesday to answer for their sins, Google got repeatedly lambasted by the Republican committee chair for violating its sacrosanct "Don't be evil" motto, but Yahoo wasn't grilled on its
extensive collusion with the Chinese government, in which it gave Beijing access to the contents of suspected dissidents' e-mails? This collusion has
landed several reporters and dissidents in jail. (Yahoo's defense of itself in those actions: "We had to." Google, not wanting to get into a situation where it has to, has decided to not offer e-mail or blogs in China.)
From whence this disparity? I don't know. But I do know that Google's stock dropped precipitously last week, in part due to investor jitters over possible government retaliation. From whence the fear of retaliation? Google's recent
decision to stand up to the Bush Administration's request for massive amounts of anonymous search data. I hate conspiracy theories, but it would explain why Congress has played softball with Yahoo and Microsoft, and done everything in its power to pin Google to the front page for as long as possible.
Conspiracy or no, I think that Google's been taking a lot of undeserved bad rap for this. It really seems, to all appearances, that Google has done everything in its power - from flagging censored searches to refusing to offer services which would legally bind it to be evil - to make sure that its entry into the Chinese market is good for freedom of speech, and bad for oppression. Of course there's money involved, more money than any of us will ever see in our lifetimes. But I've looked at this story long and hard, and I just don't see evil in Google's actions.
What do you guys think?
Story: Chapter III
Thursday, February 16, 2006 - 1:55 PM
Weird sleep-cycle last night. When I say the phrase "I was up until six in the morning writing for you guys", that sounds a lot more dramatic than it actually was: I took an accidental nap from six in the evening until midnight. Good sleep, too. Then it was up, write for six hours, and back down for a few more hours until work started belatedly at 10:30. So! I stayed up until six in the morning writing this stuff, but that's not actually as crazy as it sounds. Or maybe it's more crazy.
Anyway, here's another good chunk of story. Hope you enjoy.
Sour grapes, et al.
Tuesday, February 14, 2006 - 12:30 PM
To all those of you enjoying a happy, fulfilling Valentine's Day with your sweetheart, thumbs up to you. Despite the anonymous (and amusing, and hyperbolic =P) efforts of my (eventually-busted) friend Jael, I'm not. So for those of you in the unenviable position of being single on Valentine's Day, chin up: it's just a damn consumerist holiday, created and marketed by folks whose sole interest in the holiday was financial! True story. =] (We now have a non-confabulated holiday to celebrate: Feb. 14th is forum-hound Karmwarrior's birthday. Happy bday Karm!)
Self-proclaimed lazy, unregistered forum-hound "LazySlacker" lit a fire under my ass today about the google ads on my site. A bunch of them are always for gold-selling companies. Now, I've made it clear since the beginning that I think buying gold is a nasty habit which does harm to those around you, but saying "Don't buy gold from the companies advertising on my site" is a little like fighting the drug war by telling kids to "Just Say No".
So I set up a thread on my forum called "Report Gold-selling Ads Here". If you see a gold-selling ad, hit up that thread. And don't buy gold. Also, don't do drugs, and stuff.
Meanwhile, in the real world...
Saturday, February 4, 2006 - 5:45 PM
Today's round-up of current events.
being sued for not providing adequate warning about the potential for hearing loss when listening to
its iPod product at high volumes, despite the inclusion of such a warning in the device's user manual. Also
alleged: that Apple "let us have dessert which spoiled our dinner", and "didn't make us go
to bed on time last night, and today we're tired."
Muslim protesters in Damascus set
two European embassies ablaze in protest of a widely-reported Danish cartoon, which
depicts Mohammed wearing a bomb for a turban. (Depictions of the prophet Mohammed of any kind are
taboo under Islamic tradition.) Western news commentators replied, "...buh?" Syrian Muslims were heard
shouting "God is Greatest", and referring to danishes as "Freedom pastries".
To the Grindstone.
Wednesday, February 1, 2006 - 7:45 PM
I just had a dream that I went to a Serenity convention, with the intent of telling Joss that he was, in truth, my long-lost Real Father. (In the dream, this was apparently true.) I didn't get up the guts
to say so, but I did watch some great Firefly episodes with a lot of people that smelled bad and hadn't
slept in days. Authentic convention experience, I'm told.
Anyway, I'm off work, and I've had a nap, and I'm about to go pick up some chinese food, and then
it's all Horse, all night. I'll see you guys tomorrow.