Commentary

Google Isn’t Evil

This article appeared in the New York Daily News on February 19, 2006.

Google’s decision to censor search results in China in order to gain entry into the Chinese market is not the preferable state of affairs. Lovers of freedom deplore state censorship wherever and whenever it happens. But the company is not evil — and its compromise is better than not doing business in China at all.

Let’s say a contractor had the tools and materials to build the sturdiest modern structure, but the local building code required less-than-perfect construction. Would putting up a structure as required by local code be “evil”? Nothing of the sort.

By their logic, though, critics of Google’s engagement with China would rather see people freeze in the cold than take shelter in substandard housing.

The Chinese government does not like how uncensored search results would affect the structure of the society and government in that country. Sooner or later, freely flowing information will topple, enfeeble, or flatten the current regime. So for now, local code requires substandard information products, and Google has agreed to conform with the restrictions of Chinese authorities.

Google abandoning China would be no help to the Chinese people. A competing local search engine, Baidu, stands ready to provide government-friendly information products. Indeed, Baidu may use its relationship with the Chinese government to hamstring Google as a competitor.

Google says it discloses to users when it returns censored results, which signals to Chinese users that they do not live in a free country. That’s a useful byproduct of Google’s unfortunate cooperation with the Chinese. Just as importantly, the search engine will expose the Chinese people to a world of information and ideas, including the value and strength of freedom.

Criticism of Google for making this difficult compromise is misplaced. It takes attention away from the responsible party: the government of China, which unforgivably retains a deadly Communist ideology.

Google may not be the tool the Chinese people will use to bring the Communist regime to an end, but it will be the soil in which their awareness and desire for freedom will continue to grow. Engaging with China is not evil. It is good.

Jim Harper is the director of information policy studies.