Google in China: Its Not About Censorship

I should be less surprised to have to say this than I am: Google’s trials in China have nothing whatsoever to do with censorship. In spite of the often breathless accounts of Google’s fight against the Empire, this is not a David and Goliath hero story. When the issue was censorship or the Great Firewall of China, Google made their choice: sell, sell, sell.

I’m not as altogether opposed to that decision as I know many on both the Right and the Left are. I am of a persuasion that believes that the more money and the more power flows through a society, the more inevitably free that society becomes. At least, to a point. It is certainly self-evident in China’s case that controlling information is a cornerstone of a closed society.

But that is all water under the bridge. The issue before us now is not one of censorship, but of politico-industrial espionage. Threatening to lower the firewalls on’s service is merely Google’s way of putting pressure on the Chinese government where it hurts. Google found evidence it claims as fairly indisputable that China launched attacks on the email accounts of Gmail users as well as 34 other companies. The Gmail users were apparently dissidents within and without China’s borders.

For Google, this is a classic pocketbook issue: maintaining the security of Gmail accounts is paramount to maintaining the viability of that revenue source. It is also true that Gmail accounts are tied to a host of other Google products, from Google Docs to Google Talk, iGoogle and many others. The security issue flows well outside the email system and compromises Google’s entire empire right down to the fledgling Android OS.

For the US, currently catching heat from the press for remaining silent on the issue, this is an extremely complex issue for which rash, Bush-era responses are ill-fitted. While many in this country would like to consider China an enemy and weave paranoid stories of conquest, the truth is much stickier. They are certainly a chief rival in a world with a sizable power vacuum – political and economic. They could quickly become an enemy, but for now and in public, they are not.

Plus, every country worth it’s salt is messing around with Cyber-spying. We can’t possibly have clean hands, nor really is it in our national interest to be so driven-snow pure. Throwing stones is not in anyone’s interest, either. Let’s not forget that the Internet’s first iteration was the ARPANet, a wholly military-scientific enterprise of the United States’ design.

But I think that, in the wake of an eight-year administration, our media gets used to a certain way of doing things at the White House. Doubtless the Bush Administration would have had some bellicose words about “Freedom” and “Democracy” within moments of hearing of the suspected attack. I think we can all agree, upon reflection, that’s just stupid.