Google is not leaving China. So why pretend it is?

Jeff Jarvis is well-known for his love of all-things Google, but his latest Guardian column is probably his most hype-laden yet. I don’t think Jeff is responsible for the headline, but it sums up his position quite well: “Google is defending citizens of the net“.

The issue, of course, is China and Google’s decision to shift its search servers accessible in the mainland to Hong Kong (note for the pedantic: Hong Kong is, of course, part of China but has a somewhat-distanced relationship with regard to censorship.)

Jeff’s key paragraph is probably this:

“Next to no one has been willing to stand up to China’s suppression of speech online. Other companies – Yahoo, Cisco – have handed over information that led to the imprisonment of dissidents, or have helped China build its Great Firewall. Many more, from News Corp to the New York Times Company, have coveted the Chinese market and overlooked the regime’s tyranny to do business there.”

There’s only one problem with Jeff’s perspective: Google isn’t ceasing to do business in China. From a report in the very same newspaper:

“The company [Google] now believes it has found a legal way out, and said it intended to maintain its research, development and advertising sales business in China…”

So Google, to use Jeff’s phrase, is continuing “to overlook the regime’s tyranny to do business there”. Jeff makes the analogy with the Apartheid era in South Africa, and to stretch that analogy at little what Google is doing is like refusing to buy South African diamonds while continuing to buy South African fruit: it’s a boycott, but it’s only a boycott when it suits the company.

I’m not knocking Google for this. I think what it’s doing is actually good, and I don’t think an absolute boycott of all things Chinese would be a good approach. But Jeff, as he often does with regard to Google, over-eggs his argument to the point of absurdity. I always wish that this obviously-smart man would get a little more perspective.

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  • Jason

    I think the trouble with Jeff is that his career is bound up in Google. He might like to spruik his “entrepreneurial journalism” classes, but he’s really only known for one thing – a book that lauds the Google way of doing things as the right way.

    He can’t change tack because that would undermine the basic premise of his career, that Google = good. As such, he’s an ideologue and I don’t really expect perspective from him, although it would be nice.

  • Ian Betteridge

    I hear what you’re saying, Jason. I stopped reading Jeff’s site regularly when he moved from a position of pointing out the issues facing newspapers to denouncing anyone who disagreed with his opinion about the future of publishing as “curmudgeons”.

    While he still occasionally has interesting things to say, he’s got to the point where he’s adopted an ideology rather than arguing coherently for a point of view. This blinkered approach to Google is just one example of that.

    When/if Google starts charging for premium content on YouTube (as has been strongly rumoured), he’ll undoubtedly spin this as a good thing, entirely in line with his previous position, and not in any way shape of form a paywall. I look forward to seeing the arguments about that! :)

  • blinded1

    Aren’t the entire mainstream media pretending that they don’t know Google is still in China, even Google.cn is not taken out of the net yet?

  • Ian Betteridge

    Well not the entire mainstream media – after all, The Guardian’s story that I link to above is clear that it’s “business as usual” as far as selling ads is concerned.

    But the “Google taking heroic stand” angle is one that’s attractive to journalists, as it gives them a nice clear angle. And there’s definitely far too much taking Google’s press statements at face value going on.

  • Jason

    Whenever Jeff’s questioned about YouTube charging for content he pulls out one of his many “get out of jail” cards and says he’s always maintained that you should charge if you can.

    Unless you’re a mainstream media outlet, of course. They aren’t allowed to charge because – according to Jeff – all information must be free. What he doesn’t say is that he really means all information should be free to Google.

    I really think he’s terrified paywalls might work and a lot of Google’s content – and therefore its usefulness – will disappear.

    It’s already getting pretty bad as scrapers and spammers get better at gaming the results. I pretty much use Wikipedia as my starting point these days when I need to know something on the web.

  • http://www.technovia.co.uk Ian Betteridge

    Google’s already basically useless. The only time that I use it and get good results out of it is if I am searching a specific site (ie “site:technovia.co.uk “Ian talks bollocks””). Wikipedia is always a better starting point – or just asking someone on Twitter/Facebook.

    That’s why the Bing ads hit so hard, as I’m sure the experience will resonate.

    The ironic thing, though, is that it pays Google not to be that good, as it will improved the click-through rates of relevant ads on search! Users don’t see any difference between a relevant ad, and actual results.

    So Google’s business model is simple: Make sure the ads are relevant, and the returned is not as good as the ads.