Google, China and the Freedom of Speech

Google is planning to pull out of China if the Chinese government doesn’t allow Google to display uncensored results. When Google launched in China in Jan 2006, it did agree to censor the results as per the rules put down by the Chinese government. So is this pulling out of China just a drama or is there any meat in it?

Google has a 43% market share in China compared to Baidu’s 56% ( see this ) and China is the largest country in the world in terms of Internet Penetration. So what does this mean for Google? Google is taking its fight for freedom of speech head-on with the Chinese government and there are really only 2 options – 1) The Chinese government comes under intense pressure from the world and agrees to let Google display results without censorship or 2) Google loses the battle and pulls out of China.

The biggest social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook and even YouTube are already banned in China. Although foreign news websites like BBC and CNN are no longer restricted, they have been subject to more controls. It looks unlikely that China will let Google get away with its uncensored results although I would like to be proved wrong on this. Google has reviewed its operations and it appears from their official blog that they are willing to continue their operations in China only if they are allowed to operate an unfiltered search engine.

Google does stand to lose financially but it has taken the right stance. Yahoo and Bing have an insignificant share in the Chinese market and it would be interesting to see if they support Google in this crusade or use the opportunity to grab market share in China.

As far as the average Chinese Internet user is concerned, I can only wish them luck !

BTW, there is an interesting case of a small company in Mumbai apparently inspired by Google which sells “Golas” or slush puppies. Their logo is not only a cheeky spin on the Google logo, they also use a gmail address. I wonder if Google is doing anything about this?