Do no evil - void where prohibited

UPDATE: I should have originally posted the statement by Google upon which I was commenting, for clarity's sake.

My friend Jim argues that censorship on the internet is doomed. Of course, he's right. But IMHO that's not the real point, and it glosses over the potential for harm with which Google is playing. And my opinion is in line with that of L. Neil Smith (via Brad Spangler).

What's going on is that a private company is assisting a government in oppressing its people. It's that simple. They're doing it pretty much in a direct manner, as a matter of fact, and they admit this. While that may be doomed to failure, that doesn't mean that people won't be harmed in the process. Slavery was doomed to failure from the start, but while it was going on it did a lot of stuff to impact actual people's lives.

It's Google's lack of reflection that bugs me most. "Oh, if we don't play ball with the dictatorship, then nobody will have information and China will never become free." And that's such abject, pathetic bullshit - I find it difficult to believe that they don't understand how their participation in the regulation of information undermines freedom, in the here and now - regardless of what happens in 5, 10, or 50 years. It occurs all the time: corporations are in a give and take relationship with the leviathan state, and corruption is the natural result of that - on both sides of the dealing.

Google is not just agreeing censorship, they are institutionalizing it. They are agreeing to the principle of state regulation of thought, and helping a third party to oppress their customers. That in and of itself has long term consequences - freedom is more than just being able to do a Google search. In my opinion, Google's actions are lengthening the life of the totalitarian Chinese state, by giving it tools with which to integrate expanded options for information regulation and propaganda. This is not in anybody's interests, though in the short term I suppose it's nice to see that cute logo rather than face the reality of oppression in China.

Google can't have their cake and eat it too. They either have to "do no evil", or change their slogan to "do no evil - void where prohibited". But that's not quite as catchy, or profitable - especially when you have a captive audience of potentially a billion people.

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Written on Wednesday, February 15, 2006