Saturday, January 16, 2010

# 132 - Why Google is my Hero

While the horror in Haiti and the Late Night Wars seem to have dominated the news this week, I found myself uplifted by Google's response to China's latest antics. Earlier in this news-heavy week, Google made a major announcement, reporting that it had been the target of cyberattacks by agents who "appeared to be working on orders from the Chinese government." More important, the company also took a stand. I applaud Google's actions and its corporate commitment to "do no harm," a policy we would all do well to try and live by. (Yes, there's a Life Lesson here, too.)

According to ComputerWorld [], the U.S. has announced it will lodge a formal protest with China over the nation's alleged involvement in this hacking scandal. The U.S. Department of State will issue an official "demarche" (that's a formal diplomatic representation of an official position) in Beijing next week expressing U.S. concern over the attacks and demanding some sort of explanation. The information comes from a State Department spokesman, Philip Crowley, as quoted in a Reuters report.

More than 30 other companies may also have been targeted in the same attacks prompting widespread concern over state-sponsored cyberattacks - all originating from China. What's really at stake here? To my understanding, what China has done is use nefarious means to "out" its own citizens who "allegedly" used Google to express dissident views and information. Rather, they spoke out against the communist regime using tools available to them freely through Google.

In America, we call this Freedom of Speech. In China, with its bizarre combination of a communist government and capitalistic society, no such freedom actually exists. What I love about this story is that Google, upon learning of the alleged espionage, refused to remain a party to anything harmful to the citizenry of China. Kudos!

While the incident raises questions about both Internet freedom worldwide and the security of the Internet in China, it also begs the broader question of corporate responsibility. Google could have just chalked this up to the communist machine and continued on its merry way. It did not. Unlike so many U.S.-based corporations, Google truly operates under the banner of "First, do no harm." It has stated in a variety of reports that it will not be party to this action, that it would rather leave China than help the government persecute its citizens. Way to go, Google! Score one for the good guys.

According to Crowley, Google informed the State Department of its concerns over the cyberattacks before going public with the news. Similar concern had apparently been raised in the past. This time, Google says it has no doubts as to who the cyber-culprits really are. Let's just consider Google for a moment. It is a giant - the world's leading search engine. Along with rapid expansion of the Internet, many borders have "virtually" disappeared. Google's reach allowed the 1.3 billion residents of China to enjoy a taste of freedom - freedom of speech and freedom of information via the wildly popular search engine. The problem for China's government, apparently, is that the people liked what they tasted...maybe a little too much.

All this week, the residents of China have been paying homage to Google, leaving wreaths, gifts and correspondence at corporate office doorsteps. They are literally pleading for Google to stay and allow them to continue freely communicating. But Google has taken a formal stand and announced publicly (at least this is my take on it) that it will simply leave China if this situation - and the hacking (and subsequent outing of dissidents) - continues.

What if Google were to stay under the current conditions? Would that not, in essence, imply that it accepted or enabled the Chinese government to continue abusing its population? I stand with Google. They present us with a great example of a company living by its own principles - something Wall Street, the giant banks and U.S. automakers should try for a change. Google operates a firm ideal just like medical doctors who take the oath to "First, do no harm." Google just told the world that it will not take part in facilitating something that so many view as harmful to citizens.

The security analysts are saying that these kinds of cyberattacks are unlikely to be deterred by Google's policy statements or U.S. expressions of protest, especially given the enormous economic stakes. At the same time, there are also reports that there may be absolutely nothing our government can do in retaliation to the hacking of Google. Meanwhile, the Chinese government has actually claimed ignorance (and innocence) in the matter. Really, China? Sheesh.

Might there be some other, non-diplomatic, response Google could make against these cyber-bullies operating out of China? I don't have the answer, but I'll be watching this as it unfolds and wishing Google godspeed.

In the end, issues of Internet privacy and freedom are left largely to the businesses targeted by such attacks. It is up to the corporations to defend themselves. I hope the brilliant minds at Google can come up with some way to stay in China AND stop the hacking. If they can't, I fully agree they should walk away and let the chips fall where they may. Perhaps the population of China will finally decide it's had enough. I'm not suggesting massive revolt against the ruling party, but change is in the wind. I doubt the people of China who enjoyed their Google access will now quietly acquiesce to living without it. In any event, I wish the people of China (and Google) the best.

Life Lesson - In all things: First, do no harm.

Additional sources: Digg Daily,, ComputerWorld.

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