Google still struggling in China

Google tries a new tactic in its battle with Beijing, Yahoo launches a style guide for the Web, and MapQuest gets a new look.

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Google has been very candid about its struggles in China. Now a new post from Google gives us more insight into how this battle between the search giant and China continues to unfold.

Earlier this year, Google refused to continue blocking search results that were mandated by the Chinese government so the government threatened to shut them down completely in China. Google circumvented this by routing all Chinese traffic through servers in Hong Kong.

We all knew that was a temporary solution. Now China is threatening not to renew Google's Internet content provider license if the company continues to redirect traffic through Hong Kong. So Google is at an impasse. Does it go back to using servers in China, thereby becoming subject once again to China's stringent content filtering rules? Or does it fight the good fight, stay in Hong Kong, and risk getting the Chinese rug pulled out from underneath it altogether?

My feelings on the subject are mixed. I am all for unfiltered access to information, but I just read a great book about moral relativism by Steven Lukes. Moral relativism tells us that we can never really moralize on behalf of other cultures because we can never really understand the motivation for their behaviors. So is it for us to say that China's regulations are oppressive and wrong?

Lukes says: "The relativity of morals does not mean the absence of universal acceptance, but rather the denial of universal applicability." Let's think about that for a second. Is there a universal applicability to Web usage? We see often that there is not. An example is Pakistan blocking Facebook just a few weeks ago over images of the prophet Muhammad. It's easy for us as Americans to sit behind our monitors and yell, "Open up that Internet over there!" But it isn't that easy.

There's an entire set of cultural norms that have to be addressed before we have any kind of universality in the Web (which I do assert is preferable). The Web does not level the playing field as much as we think it does. Google's stance, I believe, is the right one but it won't work just because one company says that this is the right thing to do. It will only work if there are supplementary converging forces helping to evolve an entire culture.

More links from Tuesday's episode of Loaded:


 

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