Google's Chinese Diplomacy: Can Google Make a Difference?

by Ostatic Staff - Jan. 13, 2010

The company that promised not to be evil took a serious drubbing in 2006 when it decided to censor search results in order to comply with local laws in China. Four years later, Google is having to rethink its decision. Google has made a splash with its new approach to China, but is it enough and the right approach to make a difference?

Google attracted international attention and criticism for going against its own corporate ethics to do business in China. At the time, the company said it hoped that it could "make a meaningful – though imperfect – contribution to the overall expansion of access to information in China." Google may have made some impact, but it doesn't appear that its presence has had any deep impact on access to information in China.

Now the company is re-thinking its presence in China following a "highly sophisticated and targeted attack" against it and more than twenty other companies in an attempt to gather information about Chinese human rights activists.

Google's complaint has reached the ears of the US government and has the Internet abuzz with the implications of the search giant pulling out of China. The company has put a fire under the "global debate about freedom of speech" but will it make any difference?

The immediate impact to Google and the Chinese market will be negligible. According to MarketWatch the company only draws about 1% of its annual revenue from China.

Google leaving China won't impact local users that much either. Google doesn't loom that large in China. The search giant is second to local search engine Baidu in China, though it has been making gains.

Though Google is big, it's not big enough to impact China alone. And its confrontational approach may not go over well with the Chinese government. Especially when other companies like Microsoft are perfectly happy to censor search results in China.

It's good to see Google taking a stand, and doing so publicly. But Google's post referenced "at least twenty other large companies from a wide range of businesses" that were likewise attacked. If those companies continue to do business in China despite violations of their infrastructure to search out information on human rights activists, Google's departure from China will make little difference in the long run.

Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier is a longtime FLOSS advocate, and currently works for Novell as the community manager for openSUSE. Prior to joining Novell, Brockmeier worked as a technology journalist covering the open source beat for a number of publications, including Linux Magazine, Linux Weekly News,,, IBM developerWorks, and many others.