It’s interesting to consider Google’s problems with the censoring enforced on it within the borders of China. On the one hand, they agreed to the Chinese governments requirement that restrictions be placed on what they could show and do. On the other hand, enforcing external restrictions on a search engine seems to be contrary to the very nature of the Internet.
Webster’s Online Dictionary defines the Internet as “A computer network consisting of a worldwide network of computer networks that use the TCP/IP network protocols to facilitate data transmission and exchange.” That means it is all about communication between people, which many hold to be a natural right possessed by everyone.
Even though Bill Gates aptly pointed out that obeying the laws of a country is the only way to ensure that you can do business there, it’s also important for a country to make sure that its laws make that a desirable thing. The Internet is, at its essence an exercise in freedom of speech, so one has to wonder just how far it can be restricted without stepping on people’s rights.
That doesn’t mean that you have the right to plot a murder online just because of free speech – what’s wrong is still wrong and isn’t protected. What I do mean is that it’s worth thinking about what exactly China wanted to censor that is leaving Google thinking that it’s not even worth the effort of operating there.
The actual morality in the matter can be refined to a razors edge that no one could walk, but Google is not some small business that has to worry about losing a few thousand dollars of business. They’re willing to give up millions over this, so it’s safe to conclude that it would cost them millions more just to stay in business there.
The really interesting thing, though, comes from the fact that Google is the single most powerful search engine online. That means that China is willing to risk cutting its Internet services basically in half just to stop the spread of what it wants censored.
The whole situation is a very strange balancing act that the rest of us may not understand in full until years after it’s all over. We might not even know how it touches the rest of us until then, all because of how the question of Free Speech affects and is affected by the Internet.