Google's web censorship U-turn

Google is suddenly waging an open campaign against censorship in China. Is the search giant taking an ethical stand — or is this just business?

In an escalation of Google's war with China, a top company executive, Alan Davidson, is urging the U.S. Congress to put pressure on governments that filter the internet, saying web censorship disrupts international trade and violates human rights. The search engine company is now in a stand-off with Beijing after ceasing to abide by government filtering requirements on its Chinese search engine. Is Google's anti-censorship campaign motivated by conscience — or is the company just pursuing a savvy business strategy? Here, a look at the basics of the stand-off:

What does Google want?

Speaking before a congressional panel, Google's Davidson said the U.S. should withhold development aid from countries that restrict certain websites. Google says more than 40 countries actively censor the Internet — it's not just China — and it suggested that the U.S. ask countries to pledge in international trade agreements that they won't filter websites. "No single company and no single industry can tackle internet censorship on its own," Davidson said.

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What's at stake?

Google is fighting for access to a huge market — China has nearly 400 million internet users, more than any other country in the world. At this point, the clearest route for Google returning to business as usual in China would be for the Chinese government to ease up on censorship requirements. For its part, China is trying to put a lid on a growing rebellion among foreign tech businesses — Go Daddy just followed Google and said it would stop issuing new Chinese domain names — by making it clear that everyone must abide by Chinese laws, no exceptions.

How will this turn out?

Google's censorship U-turn is "historic," says John Bolton in The Wall Street Journal. By showing it won't simply take "whatever Beijing dishes out," Google is encouraging other U.S. companies to stand up for freedom, too. Nobody likes censorship, says Brian Lam in Gizmodo, but "I'm not sure any of us should be applauding Google's stance." If the U.S. government joins Google's crusade, it will be continuing a long tradition of the West forcing its "moral standards" on others — and that's "how wars start."

Best sources: WSJ, CNN, Gizmodo, Dallas Morning News, N.Y. Times

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