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 self- censorship 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 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. However, in early 2006, Google found itself in front of the Committee on International Relations of the U.S. House of Representatives, defending its actions in China side by side with Microsoft, Yahoo!, and Cisco Systems. Google’s choice to accept self-censorship, and the discussion and debate generated by this choice, forced Google to reexamine itself as a company and forced the international community to reconsider the implications of censorship. Google and its Mission History and Services4
Google is the world’s largest search engine. Founded in 1998 by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, two Stanford graduate students, Google began as a college research project. While at Stanford, the founders created an innovative technology that would analyze webpages and retrieve the most pertinent information for any given search query. 1
Oliver, C & Shinal, J. “Google will censor new China service”. MarketWatch. (January 25, 2006). 2
Thopmpson, C. “Google’s China Problem (And China’s Google Problem)”. The New York Times Magazine (April 23, 2006): LexisNexis. Duke University Library. 6 Nov. 2007. 3
Liu, J. “Baidu and Google at logger heads in China; Business Asia by Bloomberg”. International Herald Tribune (July 26, 2007): LexisNexis Duke University Library. 6 Nov. 2007. 4
“Milestones”. Available from www.google.com. Accessed on November 4, 2007. Case Studies in Ethics
Their innovation caught the attention of their classmates, and of others who knew them, and later on of a few investors. After they generated sufficient capital from investors, family, and friends who saw potential in their idea, they opened their first office in a garage in Menlo Park, California. This office had a washer and dryer and a hot tub that was emblematic of what today continues to be Google’s laid-back corporate culture. Now the company has moved into the “Googleplex,” a much larger office in Mountain View, California. As the...
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