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> Monday, February 1st, 2010 > Lifestyles > Interwebology: Don’t be evil anymore
Interwebology: Don’t be evil anymore
Click here to read more Interrobang articles written by Amy Plachta
Published: Monday, February 1st, 2010
In the dying days of 2009, several Gmail accounts belonging to people ranging from Chinese human rights activists to Associated Press journalists were compromised. Roughly three weeks later, on January 12, a can of worms was opened on the Internet landscape.
While it was never explicitly announced, the Chinese government was implicated as the source of the hack. Google responded by stating that they would no longer filter search results in China, even if that meant allowing results deemed illegal by the Chinese government to get through. If China found this unacceptable, Google would shut down their Google.cn search engine and pull out of the country entirely. Google also delayed the launch of two cell phone models in the country.
While no final decisions have been made, the two weeks since have been full of rumours, opinions, congratulations, and recriminations. Four years ago Google fell in line with Yahoo and Microsoft search engines by agreeing to filter search results in China in exchange for a shot at their 338 million-user market. Many saw this as a concession against Google’s own philosophy, which includes such principles as “democracy on the web works” and “the need for information crosses all borders,” and has been informally summarized in the motto “don’t be evil.”
While the threat to remove filters has restored some people’s moral faith in Google, many others don’t see the point in praising the company for stopping something it shouldn’t have done in the first place. Many other companies, such as Facebook and Twitter, are blocked in China because they refused to filter their results.
The Chinese government has a history of blocking certain communication services for what it considers the greater good of its citizens. In the midst of this controversy, China also made headlines by finally beginning to restore text messaging services in the northwest region of Xinjiang. Last July, Internet, international telephone and text messaging services were all blocked after nearly 200 people died as a result of ethnic violence. The government believes that social networking sites and text messages inflamed tensions in the region and contributed to the event.
More recently, China has announced that it will crackdown on pornography by scanning text messages across the country. If any of the messages send up red flags, the user’s cell phone services will be cut off, even if the messages were sent between spouses. This is part of a continuing fight against pornography that is “overwhelming the country’s Internet and threatening the emotional health of children,” which also saw the arrest of over 5,000 people in 2009.
Some Chinese citizens have responded to Google’s threat to leave by laying flowers at their Beijing office, showing their love of the search engine and desire for it to stay. Even if Google ceased to filter its results, a lot of content will still be caught by the so-called Great Firewall of China.
In fact, even sites disclosing and discussing the debate between Google and China itself have been blocked by the Chinese government, which continues to spurn the curiosity of its citizens; a curiosity that seems indefatigable, as the most searched word on Google.cn the day immediately following the removal of the filters was “Tiananmen.”
Also caught in the fallout is Microsoft, as Internet Explorer was found to be at fault for allowing the hack to happen in the first place. Germany and France both publicly advised their citizens to switch to other browsers as a security flaw in several versions of IE was found to have facilitated the hack. Microsoft did not deny the existence of the flaw, but rather tried to put forth the message that other browsers would be even less secure. McAfee jumped on the story to promote its own software while Microsoft worked on a patch.
For many, January has served to reignite debates on freedom of speech. U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton made a statement encouraging the Chinese government to look into what happened, with the thinly veiled political encouragement of freedom of speech. China has responded by accusing America of pushing Internet Imperialism on the world, and failing to respect the Chinese government’s right to protect its people from harmful content.
The Internet has also proven full of opinions on the situation that have nothing to do with morality, claiming Google’s threats have less to do with what is right and more to do with the fact that while it remains the world’s leading search engine, in China it remains a distant second to Baidu.com, which holds 60 per cent of China’s market share.
With so many people in the West encouraging freedom on the Internet, outspoken musician Bono garnered his own controversy when he pointed to China’s filtering model as one possible way to stop illegal downloading in the entertainment industry, seeming to praise the restrictions imposed on the country by its leaders.
While it is unlikely that Google will win in a fight with the Chinese government, and will probably end up either restoring its filters or leaving the country, the ripples created by this event in the fabric of human rights will likely proliferate for months to come.