A Google China Analogy

To attempt to counteract some of the bad analogies that have been tossed about by Google apologists, allow me to offer one of my own:

A corrupt government drugs its food to keep its people compliant. However, a thriving black market provides undrugged food to those who can afford it. A foreign food manufacturer, wishing to "tap" this "market" and sell directly rather than via the black market decides to start drugging its own food so it can sell directly to the people of this country, but at least they put a warning label on the food saying "in accordance with local laws, this food is drugged." Unfortunately, now that food is cheaper and foreign companies have lended legitimacy to the practice of drugging food, the corrupt government in question feels like it has free reign to crack down further on the black market that had been providing undrugged food, thus resulting in a more drugged populace.

Drugging food is always bad. "The government made me do it" is no excuse.

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That's a terrible analogy -

That's a terrible analogy - there is nothing harmful in the content that Google is providing. If you want a food based anology try this -

China only provides food that has 50% of the nutrients that are necessary for a healthy life. A food manufacturer provides the food legally but provides a message that says "This food only has half of what you need to survive."

Providing only partially healthy food is not something they would do voluntarily, but increasing the supply of food, therefore decreasing the price - is something that benefits all.

As an additional up-shot the citizens also have the upshot of knowing that they need to supplement their food to get the full value.

Chris: I suppose your

Chris: I suppose your analogy makes sense if you think censorship is "just removing information."

What else could censorship

What else could censorship be?

What is it if not removing

What is it if not removing infomation? Google is not providing intentionally false information? It isn't interjecting it's philosophy in the results search.

The information is not complete - Google even tells the users as such. How is the Chinese internet experience better without Google? At worst the experience is a wash - they are neither better or worse with Google. At best it makes their internet lives easier as the wealth of non-political information - stuff that we take for granted - is readily available to them.

Are Chinese free to express themselves in ways that are contrary to Chinese wishes, but they can educate themselves on virtually everything else. I would call that a net gain.

I think you overrate the

I think you overrate the "legitimacy" this confers on censorship in China, although it certainly means that the government has to spend less resources itself in pursuing its awful censorship policy. In your analogy above, the people are getting drugged food no matter what. When the foreign company starts providing it, it changes nothing about them being drugged but it does provide them with more food. It seems you blame google for letting the Chinese government get away with all its crap, but couldn't we just as easily blame every company that does business with China for the same thing? If so, then perhaps we can shake our finger at google for being the latest in a long line of companies to do such, but it hardly makes them unique. It would also seem then that you would call for a total suspension of trade with China.

Your thoughts on what will happen to the "black market" for uncensored material are of more interest. I'm not sure exactly how "semi-legitimate" the uncensored proxy servers were in China before google.cn, but given the Chinese government I can't see how they wouldn't be cracking down on uncensored material regardless of google's decision. I mean, did China not feel like it had "free reign" before? That seems unlikely, and it also seems unlikely that having google censor it's own database (objectionable though it may be) will really have a significant effect on the already autocratic policies of China's government.

Again, you clearly think google is in the wrong here, which is fair enough, but I'm just not sure I buy that this will somehow lend a significant legitimacy to censorship or alter the government's policies toward uncensored material.

Chris: Censorship is about

Chris: Censorship is about changing the conversation. It's about the first hits for "tiananmen" being a bunch of happy tourists instead of tanks and death. If that's not a lie I don't know what is.

Stretch: Legitimacy is

Stretch: Legitimacy is exactly what the Chinese government needs more than anything right now, and anything that lends it that legitimacy without their having to change policies for the better is a bad thing. Google is now giving them some much needed legitimacy for free.

A colleague just suggested a

A colleague just suggested a food-based analogy that I think fits quite well--suppose Israel only permitted the importation and sale of kosher food, restricting the liberties of those who want to consume non-kosher food. A company that produced a variety of unique food products, many of which are not kosher, modifies its processes so that some of those formerly non-kosher foods can now be imported into and sold in Israel, but still leaving many other as treyf (such as pork and lobster-based foods).

The liberties of those in Israel who want to eat treyf foods are still being infringed, but they are better off than they were before.

I agree with Chris--the poison analogy is a really bad analogy, as there is no point of analogy for the harmful additive.

Jim: First, I was talking

Jim:

First, I was talking about drugged food, not poisoned... The original term I used was "soma" but I eventually left it out for some reason. Or imagine instead they're removing "inflammatory nutrients" in such a way that the resulting diet results in calmer people who are satisfied with their government. Clearly I'm overstating the effectiveness of censorship here, but that's only because censorship is inherently evil independent of its effectiveness.

Your Israel analogy doesn't hold because neither the intent nor the effect of only allowing kosher foods would be to keep the established government in power.

Chris: Censorship is about

Chris: Censorship is about changing the conversation. It’s about the first hits for “tiananmen” being a bunch of happy tourists instead of tanks and death. If that’s not a lie I don’t know what is.

To lie is to try to convince someone of something you believe to be false. A "lie" is a false statement deliberately presented as being true. Given that there is this set of pictures about Tiananmen Square:

(*) Pictures showing the massacre
(*) Pictures not showing the massacre

and now Google is only returning the following information:

(*) Pictures not showing the massacre
(*) A note that information has been omitted

then the burden is on you to show why the second list represents a lie. Yes, it's easy to form an inaccurate picture if you only consider the pictures of happy people, and maybe even the intent of the Chinese government is for that to happen. But it's still not a lie. The Chinese government is already doing a heck of a lot of lying! Blame them for the evil criminals they are, not a company trying to make a profit.

People who are interested in the truth have a responsibility to find it for themselves. You can't condemn Google for its failure to provide the information you want it to when they make a reasonable effort to tell the people searching the results are incomplete.

Google has a brand name that

Google has a brand name that coincides with trust and the "do no evil" mantra. Its similar to seeing food with the "organic" label on it. People automatically think good things about Google and organic foods. The brand name gives us a false sense of security since neither Google nor organic foods are necessarily better although the convention wisdom says so. The question is whether the Chinese themselves think they are being censored when they use Google or not.

The search for Tiananmen is

The search for Tiananmen is certainly a lie by omission - but you have failed to persuade anyone that the lives of Chinese citizens are somehow worse off with Google than without it.

A previous commenter claims that the investment that the government has to make has decreased - I don't follow how that is possible. The onus is on the government to provide the restricted content, Google just has to implement the policy.

A topic that hasn't entered the discussion is how likely is it that a someone that is truly interested in resistance and rebellion with just enter their intent into a search engine where they can be tracked and potentially jailed? I maintain that, even though content is filtered, probably at least 80% of what the Chinese use the internet for is unadulterated.

If Google was managing the Chinese campaign to censor the internet for all parties I think that your argument would be a bit more plausible - or if Google was providing search results to the government so that they could track dissidents. But Google will make the lives of Chinese citizens incrementally better - and if they don't no one will use it.

Stefan, "To lie is to try to

Stefan,

"To lie is to try to convince someone of something you believe to be false."

Is honesty nothing more than avoiding the statement of anything you know to be false?

I'm not condemning Google; the firm has a responsibility to make money for its owners, and this is a way to do it. I suggest that the liberal philosophy (in the classical sense) requires that we make it without force or fraud. Part of fraud is saying things that one knows to be false. But I suggest that the other part of fraud is deliberately not saying things that you know to be true*. Google, in my opinion, does a less egregious wrong by informing its Chinese consumers that it censors the results it provides, but it does a wrong nonetheless when, by censoring itself, it is complicit in the censorship of the Chinese government.

(*Or, to relax the claim, that you believe to be true with a certainty approaching 1.)