Dancing with the dragon
No doubt you’ve been reading about the fracas going on between Google and the Chinese Government. If not, go here for a quick run-down.
What are the Chinese after I wonder. Is it just hacking into the Gmail accounts of Chinese human-rights activists? Or are they after something far juicier like Google’s immense databases and archives and all the information about you and me?
“It’s got all of your search-terms. And it’s got what you clicked on while you’ve been on Google pages. It’s got a list of pretty much every ad you ever clicked on. It’s got any emails that you sent to Gmail users. It’s got what people sent to you from Gmail accounts. It’s got the correspondence that you exchanged with people who, unbeknown to you, flush all of their mail from other accounts through Gmail. It’s got every posting that you’ve sent, since about 2004, to every email-list that you’re on (because at least one person on every list uses Gmail). All of that data is directly related to you because of the email-addresses, IP-addresses and personal names contained in all of that traffic.
That’s reinforced by its use of your email-address as your login id for Google services, and a suite of cookies that are common across all services. If you’re a Google addict, it may also have every location that you ever typed into Google Maps, and every Streetview you ever displayed. And you may have even gifted it your photo collection, and a copy of your own disk-files.
So Google is in a position to mine from its holdings: your online behaviour; your economic and social interests, your political views, your network of contacts and your close associates”.
So what’s the drama you say? Well, what happens when all this juicy data about you falls into the hands of an authoritarian government? Think about that for a moment.
I would applaud Google for threatening to shut down their operations in China and refusing to continue with self-censorship if I thought they were doing so by taking a stand on censorship or human rights violation. I’ve always thought Google was in violation of Article 19 of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights by censoring searches or blocking websites to keep the Chinese dudes happy. Google isn’t admitting that their hissy fit goes beyond the suggestion that Chinese hackers attacked Gmail accounts of human rights activists. But why the hissy fit now when Google’s been dancing with the Chinese and self-censoring for a few years ? Why the sudden throwing down of the gauntlet to the Chinese over censorship and cyber attacks? I’m sure Google hasn’t just woken up to the fact that they were dealing with the Chinese and not the neutral Swiss!
There are mutterings that Google is using cyber-terrorism and censorship as a smokescreen to get the hell out of China and extract itself from business failings there. The Chinese market is dominated by the search giant, Baidu, with Google only having a 30% share of China’s $1 billion search market.
Is Google really living up to its “don’t be evil” motto by going up against the Chinese dragon? Does it really believe that the Chinese government will bow down to a US company?
Call me cynical but I think with questions being asked about Google’s plans to digitise millions of books; Google being criticised in several European countries over Street View and invasion of privacy; and data security concerns over its cloud computing apps – well, frankly Google could do with a good news story of being seen to take the high moral ground. It will be interesting to see how this plays out for Google and what will it mean for US-China relations?