Yesterday Google dropped the biggest corporate bombshell in recent
memory with the announcement that they are reviewing their operations
in China following a very sophisticated cyber attack against Google and some 20 other companies (including Rack Space)
that targeted intellectual property and the Chinese dissident
community. This has implications that go far beyond the explosion in
the blogosphere that has been going on for the last 24 hours, because a company has taken on a country.
Many people and groups applaud Google for its efforts in its announcement last night, and Techmeme has
been ablaze with general punditry across the internet from staid news
organizations to the Department of State to bloggers in general – and
if anything this deflects the criticism that Google has been facing
since Sergry Brinn made his generally loathed announcement about Privacy and Google.
China has a very sophisticated cyber warfare capability; their
hackers are some of the best in the world, so this really is not a
surprise that Chinese hackers would go after information that carries a
high monetary value, Intellectual Property (which was cited in the original Google press release)
as well as targeting the Chinese dissident community worldwide. This
includes the reading of at least the subject lines of two e-mail
accounts in question that were probably phished or gotten through a
botnet or other credential stealing software.
What is interesting is not just the explosion of commentary on the American side, but on the Chinese side as well from China Daily, The Chinese Digital Times and an interesting sidepiece from Chinese Law Prof Blog.
The Chinese are doing their political best to have an open discussion
about the issue and what prompted Google to make the statement that it
did, namely to ask for an uncensored search engine in China as well as
reviewing continuing operations in China.
Given what we know publicly about Google in China, pulling out of China is both good and bad.
The history of American companies in China, the process that they have
used has been to support the efforts of the Chinese government in
filtering information. Yahoo, MSN and Google have all taken serious
hits to their corporate images by doing so, but have continued to
survive both in the USA and in China. We know that when Microsoft shut down Chinese dissident blogs there was uproar, when Yahoo turned over information to Chinese authorities about a Chinese dissident
that there was uproar. Therefore, there is a long history here that
makes the Google statement very interesting from differing
From the perspective of Bravo and well done – the blogosphere and
popular press are alive with commentary thoughts and ideas that this
was an awesome idea. Chinese Law Prof
though brings up an interesting point – the possible lawsuit based on
the fiduciary duty of the company. However, it all depends on the
relative impact of the review, what happens, and if Google sticks by
its guns and really does pull out. At this point to day this is more a
shot at the waterline of the government, we still need to see if the
Chinese government will give in to this.
From the business perspective – we have to ask how important is Google to the Chinese Government.
That is the real question that we should be asking, what is the mutual
benefit and the mutual need for each other. If the Chinese government
does not believe that Google is important, then the Chinese government
will blow this off. If there is a need, or someone believes that, there
is a need then some very interesting things will come of this action.
From the Public Relations perspective – Google has gone from “don’t
be evil” in 2000/2001 to being lambasted in the popular press and in
the blogosphere for doing evil in 2009/2010, or at least our perception
of evil in general in the popular press and blogosphere. Overnight
Google has been able to change that perspective around and many people
are now applauding Google for taking a stand against censorship in
China. China is one of the latest boogey men in the popular American
lexicon, they have taken our jobs, they make most of our stuff, and we
do not have Wal-Mart and their low prices without China. This is an
easy target from the Public Relations viewpoint to go after, much
easier than India or Mexico, or even Canada. Even though India has an internet censorship policy that Google (and everyone else) has subscribed to.
From the legal, governmental perspective – the issuance of a State Department message from Hillary Rodham Clinton,
even if it was very short (and I hope we see more) is even more
interesting from the idea of blending government and corporate
resources to solve a problem. Did the State Department need to be
involved, or is this the standard show of support from Government for
companies that are trying to operate in China like we have seen since
From the Hackers perspective – Chinese hackers are probably the
best in the world right now, and it is not unusual for them to slide
their attacks against anyone but the Chinese government through the
Great Firewall of China. In 2006, the UK had a major breach
that could have compromised government information, so the activity has
been going on with specifically targeted groups that carry a high
intelligence and monetary value to the hacker. With the Google
announcement, the hackers know that something worked and worked
brilliantly, but they were caught. Hacking in china carries the death
penalty. What makes this interesting is what really tipped the scales
While I personally applaud Google for their stance, this is a
stand; the important part is to look at the situation from a number of
perspectives. There is always a reason why someone does something, and
a corporation is no different. Governments, companies, people are
continually hacked on a regular basis either through user fault or
system administrator/developer omission. While Google hands down has
done a good thing in my opinion, there is more than meets the general
robust applause that has broken out on the internet, this is a nuanced
and multi-faceted issue, and the first shoe has just hit the floor.
Related articles by Zemanta
- Google Threatens to Leave China (businessweek.com)
- Rebecca MacKinnon: Google Gets On the Right Side of History (online.wsj.com)
- Google blazes a trail with China rift | Jonathan Fenby (guardian.co.uk)
- Google’s Threat Echoed Everywhere, Except China (nytimes.com)
- Google and China (enterpriseirregulars.com)
(Cross-posted @ IT Toolbox)