January 31, 2006

Lazy punditry: Seeking cheap irony in Google's US vs China actions

[I wrote this as a reply to a mailing-list message about Google "hypocrisy"]

The Boston Globe points out that Google achieves the height of hypocrisy in simultaneously fighting the COPA subpoena while caving in to China's censorship.

While the cheap irony seems irresistible to pundits, it's hardly a reasonable comparison:

1) Say what you will about its sorry state these days, the US government is far more amenable to legal challenges than the government of China.

2) The COPA subpoena is about one part (an expert's report) which is one part of an overall case, where Google is not a party. China apparently made censorship a condition of Google doing business in the country.

The Globe article also gets it wrong, repeating the mistake about "US Justice Department's investigation of online child pornography." The COPA case has nothing to do with an investigation of child pornography. It's basically about a certain type of sexual material legal for adults but not minors and the burdens of restricting access to it with regard to minors.

People have read all sorts of deep political significance into the COPA subpoena, that simply isn't there. In fact, from a business standpoint, Google's actions are far more consistent than hypocritical. That is, they'll make a fuss if it's good PR and relatively costless, but not make any real sacrifice. What incentive is there for any publicly-traded company to act differently?

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on January 31, 2006 02:15 PM (Infothought permalink)
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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BTW, did you see this?

Apparently Google-China's current filter doesn't recognize common typos of restricted terms. Accident or purposeful gap?

Posted by: Lis Riba at January 31, 2006 02:37 PM

Even if Google weren't operating as a business, but rather as a cabal attempting to spread as much information as possible, it still makes sense to both fight the subpoena and open for business in China.

Actually, the subpoena is entirely separate because that's a privacy issue. Unless if the contradiction is "good vs. evil".

Posted by: Anonymous at January 31, 2006 07:33 PM

Lis: Thanks. I think it's just that the first blacklist didn't think of it. Easy enough to fix :-(.

Anon: The point is that the two aren't really comparable, on several axes.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at February 2, 2006 10:12 PM