How do you say “Don’t Be Evil” in Mandarin?

Google's China HQ
Google's China HQ

Ni Hao, Google?

This post on Webmaster World dealing with the recent shenanigans around Google’s Chinese venture, caught my eye. So I’m reposting it here:

What have we got so far?

Google: PR smokescreens from MV telling the main stream media that they do this for two reasons 1) censorship debate, and 2) hacking attempts on Gmail accounts. Google making https connections the default for Gmail. A revenue of $200M generated in the PRC. They threaten to uncensor the results on (I have not seen a credible source that Google already has uncensored their results.)

The PRC: Reacts as expected, pointing to Chinese laws and equal rules for all (Internet) companies operating in China. Also they have strict laws against hacking etc etc. And they pull the plug, or will pull the plug once Google uncensors their results on Business as usual. They have no issue with that, and they prefer Baidu over Google anyway.

Possible explanations:

1) Google has suddenly realized they can indeed be not evil and decided to pull out of the PRC. No, no, and no – this does not make sense at all. Why now? Why link it to the hacking attempts? Why not just say, “we’re done with this censorship thing” and wave good-bye? No.

2) Google are fed up with the treatment from the Chinese regime and are in dire need of positive PR in the western world who have been really upset about recent Google statements, launches and announcements. But I do not think that Google would just withdraw from one of the main future markets to get a short-lived PR value in the western world. Typically, companies never actively reduce their growth opportunities to get some positive PR. Nah.

3) Google realized that they can not compete with Baidu and decided to pull out. This could be the case, but somehow it just does not sound like Google, who certainly have the spirit to keep fighting. Also they do have the cash to keep the operations running, maybe on maintenance mode. Why give the whole thing up, when they operate in other markets where they also are not number one? Nah.

So what could be it? I have only two plausible theories what really happenend.

A) Through analysis of their massive usage data they (think they) can predict what is going to happen in PRC, i.e. they know that the tide will be turning and that the PRC will change. Soon. So they decide to pull out for the moment, trying to speed up the freedom process and to leave a positive impression in the western world AND IN CHINA. Just see those Chinese folks putting down flowers in front of the Google offices in China! They certainly do have fans over there. And when the liberation comes, Google get in again, with big hoopla and enjoy a bigger market share. — This theory is interesting, because it could be true. Google placing a bet on “change, soon” and takes the positive PR value on its way out. Could be. Still does not solve the question of the “why link all this to hacking”, but hey.

B) The Google China office had one or more sophisticated “moles” who had access to source code and/or user data, or tried to gain access to source code and/or user data. Google corporate security caught one of the moles while stealing the stuff, or found the code that should have done this. They could not identify the mole(s) and realized they have a massive security issue. Massive! Google then decided that the risk of operating an office in China is simply too high. When you can not trust your employees in such vital questions, then you have to shut the whole thing down. — This theory is the best in my view. It would explain the strange link to the hacking attempts; it would explain why the employees are (according to CNN) already on paid leave. The whole censorship discussion covers up the embarrassing facts of Google being very vulnerable. It hurts to give up China, sure. It’s a massive failure, sure. It probably throws you back years, sure. But it has to be done if you don’t want to lose the whole thing. Just imagine, if the moles had access to user data! They would need to release just a tiny sample to the press, and Google would be toast. Noone would ever trust Google with anything again, especially with the whole privacy debate right now. (From the fact that they “just” closed the office and seem to continue the discussion Chinese officials we know that no data has been compromised, so they can not be blackmailed.)

Personally, I think option (B) is the best explanation for what has been going on.

Best analysis I’ve seen of the situation. Hopefully Google does pull out of China completely, and sincerely; bottom line be damned. Given recent comments by their CEO on the issue of privacy, I’d like to think Brin beat him about the head with a “Don’t Be Evil” stick, and that they’re back to taking the motto seriously.

Because like Fox Mulder, “I want to believe” in Google.

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