One of the very first things that made me skeptical about Google was their approach to censorship in China, which I thought deeply compromised their supposed ‘don’t be evil’ approach to the world. It struck me that their position- summarized as “the benefits of increased access to information for people in China and a more open Internet outweighed our discomfort in agreeing to censor some results” bespoke a fair amount of arrogance about the value of Google and a discounting of the value of uncensored information. I didn’t mention that issue in my recent post about Google and reading their tea leaves, but it certainly is one of the big tea leaves to be read.
And so they’ve added another layer to the tea leaves with this announcement that Google will be backing out of censorship in China and possibly abandoning China altogether. Go read it.
It is hard to imagine any other American company having the cojones to make a public statement like it, and I have to applaud them for it. Google is different; anyone who tells you otherwise doesn’t understand them very well. The question we must continually ask is ‘how different, and for how long will they remain different?’ Schmidt’s quotes the other day suggest they are becoming more like others, and that is troubling, and worth writing about and reflecting on (not least by people within Google.) But to even post this is a reminder that they are still very different from most of their peer large corporations. I suppose for those of us who continue to read the tea leaves the followthrough after this post will say a lot as well.