Time Reports on Google in China

Following up on my previous post of the day concerning Google in China, here is an interesting read from (of all places) Time Magazine Online.

The author makes a point to muddy the waters as much as possible to try to give Google some cover, but there are some interesting points to be made here. Much of the logic stems from the “Everybody’s doing it,” field of corporate moral relativism, arguing that China is a market that cannot be ignored, and therefore a little evil is OK.

I suppose from a purely economic standpoint, there is some truth to this, but a company whose stock has skyrocketed like Google’s has ~ a company making a rather large fortune on the single most pervasive advertising schemes on the Internet ~ could probably stand not to invest too heavily on China, especially when you consider the fact that it is entirely possible to hit any number of other Google pages from within the Great Firewall of China, and they don’t necessarily have to use a .cn address.

As a side note, I do find it a bit odd that China does not employ a more creative method of censoring it’s stuff than they do: apparently, they have hired 30,000 censors to monitor this stuff instead of doing what any idiot company does and just route everything through proxy servers. Let’s hope no one from China is reading this!

At any rate, here is a shocking bit of weasling from a former hero of the Free Internet movement, Larry Page:

“One of the principles we believe pretty strongly is that having really good access to information for people is a great way of improving the world.” But in the end Google chose to dance with the dragon–presumably the cha-cha. “Filtering our search results clearly compromises our mission,” the company’s official statement says. “Failing to offer Google search at all to a fifth of the world’s population, however, does so far more severely.”

I see. . . No, actually, I don’t.

Somehow, I don’t think that any educator (and I’m engaged to be married to one, and thus feel relatively comfortable in this assesment) would be happy with the notion that bad information is better than no information. Here’s a little fun with searching that has been making its way around the Internet recently:

http://images.google.com/images?q=tiananmen (American Google search for Tiananmen)

http://images.google.cn/images?q=tiananmen (Chinese Google search for Tiananmen)

So, no, I don’t think that a difference this extreme in the quality or content of information can be argued as “no big deal.” Make whatever feduciary claims you wish, Mr. Page, but do not expect that you can hold the high moral ground on the freedom of information any longer. One can argue which of these two search results is the fairer take on Tiananmen Square, but you cannot argue that such a disparity is fair to anyone.

What is scary about this ~ both in the shape of things to come and in the shape of things as we thought they were already ~ is how much control Google has over the dessemination of information on the Internet, generally. Think of it: we know there is a huge disparity between those two search results above, but if we assume that this is a result simply of China’s influence, we are mistaken. Google’s influence is on both search results, based on thier programming and thier biases, weather we accept it or not.

Really, it raises an almost journalistic question: if no human can be completely objective about news ~ and if a bias can manifest itself in one’s choice of words ~ then is it possible to provide truly objective news? Paraphrased to match the topic, how can a programmer or group of programmers who design software to scan the Internet for content not do so by imprinting thier biases on the results? Especially when Google has, of necessity, had to tailor it’s code to avoid game-playing site optimizers who used overloaded META tags and ALT attributes to boost page ranks unfairly?

By Tommy Belknap

Owner, developer, editor of DragonFlyEye.Net, Tom Belknap is also a freelance journalist for The 585 lifestyle magazine. He lives in the Rochester area with his wife and son.