Back in the idealistic days of Google past when the slogan was “Don’t be evil,” the company considered China’s search engine censorship to be evil. Today, Google is all grown up. And that wild-eyed innocent naïveté is well behind them.
We know this because Google has long since shed the “Don’t be evil” slogan. They approach the world with much more maturity, nuance, and practicality. The other dead giveaway is that Google’s CEO is now speaking publicly about exploring reentry into the Chinese market with a search engine that accommodates censorship.
Despite Google’s no doubt good intentions, the very exploration has set off a firestorm of negative reaction. Writing for the Verge, Nick Statt catalogues the dissenting voices.
“Though Pichai describes his company’s China plans as very preliminary, it’s clear that backlash within and outside the company has been vocal and will only intensify in the coming months. Numerous employees have signed an open letter calling for Google to abandon the project, which critics fear will suppress free expression in China and be weaponized by the country’s government as a means of silencing dissidents and surveilling its citizens. Congress and also the White House have also expressed disapproval, calling the potential product a threat to democracy and a way to ‘strengthen Communist Party censorship and compromise the privacy of Chinese customers,’ in the words of Vice President Mike Pence.”
There are a lot of people who believe a China-friendly search engine from Google would be a grave mistake. Here are a few reasons why they are right:
Google employees are openly protesting the idea of a censored search engine for China. Many have signed an open letter demanding the company abandon their intention to accommodate China in this way.
Silicon Valley is filled with idealists. People don’t just work at companies like Apple and Google for a paycheck. They can get that anywhere. They choose a company because they believe in what that company is doing. This issue is core to many, if not a majority of the people who believe in the power of search at Google.
Core Values Confusion
It is one thing to be confused, or even wrong about business decisions. It is quite another to waffle on what is perceived to be a core value. The integrity of search as a tool for human betterment is a core value for Google. To change their opinion on this is to irreparably harm the brand as no one will have any idea what Google stands for any more.
Appearance of Greed
Google wants to avoid the appearance of just wanting to make a money grab. They are already one of the wealthiest companies in the world. A move like this feels like trading the ethics of search for the potential advertising dollars.
There is a way for Google to navigate this issue. But they have not yet found that way. They have left employee morale in shambles, created confusion about their core values, and dawned the appearance of greed. Until Google has a better idea of why they are even considering this course of action, they should put on the breaks before doing irreparable damage to their brand.