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Business - Written by on Friday, October 31, 2008 12:04 - 0 Comments

Google vs. The Great Firewall

In February, both Don and I wrote posts speculating on the future of China’s Great Firewall. At the time, there was a great deal of speculation that because of the Beijing Olympics, the scrutiny of the world community would force China to become more open – I’d argue it hasn’t. In fact, it would seem that for all intents and purposes, China looked like the Belle of the Ball this summer without realizing much real change.

Given that the status quo is largely still in effect, we’re left looking for other indications that change is coming in The Middle Kingdom. In my original post, I argued that business could be such an agent for openness in China. I wrote:

Business is a powerful force and its influence can’t be denied but criticisms that companies (search engines, I’m looking in your direction) have been complicit in Chinese censorship efforts leave me somewhat skeptical. Business is a powerful force and its influence can’t be denied but criticisms that companies (search engines, I’m looking in your direction) have been complicit in Chinese censorship efforts leave me somewhat skeptical.

Well it looks like Google has finally decided to do something about it. On their official blog this week, Andrew McLaughlin, Director of Public Policy and Government Affairs, posted the following:

In a world where governments all too often censor what their citizens can see and do on the Internet, Google has from the start promoted global free expression and taken the lead in being transparent with our users. We’ve pressed governments around the world to stop limiting free speech and made it possible for dissidents, bloggers and others to have their voices heard.

Being that Google’s mantra is “Don’t Be Evil”, it’s nice to see them address an area where they’ve been suspect in the past and use their Internet dominance to shine a light on an issue they formerly whitewashed. The internet has the power to put unjust and restrictive practices under real scrutiny but it won’t happen on its own. To that end, in the post, Google announced their partnership in the Global Network Initiative. The GNI is a global cooperative effort of non-profit groups, companies and educational institutions with a mandate to, “protect and advance freedom of expression and privacy in the ICT sector.”

It’s a small step, but it’s one in the right direction. It makes me wonder: Is this a tipping point for freedom or will we continue to see business as usual?



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