The Columbia Critic

A place to debate anything we want to. We'll talk Columbia campus issues. We'll talk up the homosexual problem. We'll talk China. And we'll talk without resorting to partisan rhetoric. We may be left. We may be right. But we aren't going to be quoting any party line. We're leading the discussion. But feel free to chime in. Hannity and Colmes this is not.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Google Can't Find Tiananmen

This ran in the Spectator today. See Sean's earlier post ( for a different angle.

Google Can’t Find Tiananmen
By Brian Wagner
February 02, 2006

Beware the cult of the dollar.

Money, it is said, slicks the wheels of politics, business, and everyday life. But the conclusion that money should come before standards hinges dangerously on allowing companies to be held unaccountable for their actions.

When companies like Google and Microsoft compromise their standards in order to operate in foreign countries that don’t share the same social values as the West, they justify themselves through the bottom line of profits. Google announced last week that it would censor its search engine so that the Chinese public couldn’t access information their government wanted blocked. Therefore, Google was justified in becoming a state-supported censor because if it didn’t acquiesce, it wouldn’t be in a position to make more money.

Corporate social responsibility, free parking, and environmental friendliness all exist only after the dollar has its say. Profit before virtues. You scratch my back and then I might scratch yours. It is an obvious part of capitalism, but that does not mean it should always remain unchecked and unquestioned.

Companies have, in recent legal cases like Kasky v. Nike, demanded the same right to free speech as any private citizen. Having been granted the power of speech by the Supreme Court, they now seek to avoid being held responsible for the power of action.

China, a country I have studied for years, is progressing toward greater freedoms of speech, thanks in large part to pressure applied by foreign business interests over the year. But censorship, especially on the Internet, remains prevalent in the Middle Kingdom, and corporate giants like Microsoft and Google are currently part of the problem. While it is true that economic openness can have great effects in changing a country’s political practices, a unique behemoth like China should be continually prodded in order to ensure change. When our companies join in on censorship—an act so antithetical to American beliefs that it remains a swear word in politics—we have to question the standards to which our corporations should be held.

Bill Gates recently stated, “I think [the Internet] is contributing to Chinese political engagement. ... Access to the outside world is preventing more censorship.” This is true. The Internet, in its role as a globalized forum and transmitter of information, is inevitably increasing Chinese awareness of other belief systems and ways of life. Progress toward individual freedoms is being made. But does this constant undercurrent of change justify the role of the largest American companies in being censors themselves?

Microsoft’s choice isn’t between censorship and failure. Their other option is to remain on the moral high ground. These companies are doing quite well, thank you very much, without the Chinese market. No matter how Gates twists the debate, the issue still remains that Microsoft is a censor who is helping to maintain an authoritarian regime with a dismal human rights record. Does he have to place his company in that position? No. Chinese companies are lining up to take advantage of technological advances. But Gates can’t admit Microsoft isn’t needed—that wouldn’t accord with the cult of the dollar.

Google recently attacked the European Commission for considering censorship of offensive online video content. When possible, Google, whose corporate motto is a cheeky “Don’t Be Evil,” will fight censorship at every turn. But with dollar signs floating across spreadsheets, morals and values become expensive baggage.

American companies, by importing their practices to China, can open up the nation. But Bill Gates’ belief that progress will occur without constant external and internal pressure is an extremely lazy way out of adhering to basic Western beliefs about the right of the individual and the responsibilities of the corporation.

Globalization may help Microsoft and Google span the globe, but so long as they are based in the United States, we shouldn’t allow them to take rain checks on basic moral and legal underpinnings of American thought and law just because the cult of the dollar pushes them toward greater profits.


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