GOOGLE IN CHINA
“The Great Firewall”
Prepared by Kristina Wilson, Yaneli Ramos, and Daniel Harvey under the supervision of Professor Wayne Norman (edited by Professor Chris MacDonald)
In early 2006, search-engine giant Google struck a deal with the People’s Republic of China and launched Google.cn, a version of its search engine run by the company from within China. Launching Google.cn required Google to operate as an official Internet Service Provider (ISP) in China, a country whose Communist government requires all ISPs to selfcensor, removing content that is considered illegal from search results. From a financial perspective, China represented for Google a dynamic and fast-growing, though increasingly competitive, market. Google’s decision to self-censor Google.cn attracted significant ethical criticism at the time. The company’s motto is “Don’t Be Evil,” and prior to entering China, Google had successfully set itself apart from other technology giants, becoming a company trusted by millions of users to protect and store their personal information. The choice to accept self-censorship, and the discussion and debate generated by this choice, forced Google to re-examine itself as a company and forced the international community to reconsider the implications of censorship. This case was prepared as the basis for class discussion rather than to illustrate either the effective or ineffective handling of an administrative situation.
This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution - Noncommercial - No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/. You may reproduce this work for non-commercial use if you use the entire document and attribute the source: The Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University.
Case Studies in Ethics
“While removing search results is inconsistent with Google’s mission, providing no information (or a heavily degraded user experience that amounts to no information) is more inconsistent with our mission.” – Google senior policy counsel Andrew McLaughlin.”1
In early 2006, search-engine giant Google struck a deal with the People’s Republic of China and launched Google. cn, a version of its search engine run by the company from within China. Launching Google.cn required Google to operate as an ofﬁcial Internet Service Provider (ISP) in China, a country whose Communist government requires all ISPs to self-censor, removing content that is considered illegal from search results. Such censored content ranges from political subjects such as “democracy” and “Tibet,” to religious subjects such as “Falun Gong” (a spiritual movement banned by the government) and “the Dalai Lama,” to social subjects like “pornography.” By choosing to launch Google.cn, Google seemed to be implying that its mission and values could be consistent with selfcensorship in China. From a ﬁnancial perspective, China represented for Google a dynamic and fast-growing, though increasingly competitive, market. With over 105 million users online in early 2006, China’s Internet market was the second in size only to that of the United States, but it still represented only about 8% of the Chinese population. Though Google’s U.S.-based site, Google.com, had been available in China since the site’s inception in 1999, service was slow and unreliable due to extensive Chinese government censoring of international content. Google’s major U.S. competitors, Yahoo! and Microsoft MSN, had each entered the Chinese market as ISPs years earlier, agreeing to self-censor. In addition, escalating competition from Chinese search engine Baidu.com was quickly eroding Google. com’s Chinese market share: between 2002 and 2007, Baidu.com’s market share increased from a mere 3%2 to a dominant 58%.3 Google’s decision to self-censor Google.cn attracted signiﬁcant ethical criticism at the...