Google flunks a big test

Google sometimes seems like half my life. I start my days looking
at Google News on the Internet, and often spend hours using the Google
search engine to learn more about subjects I am going to write about.
Little did I know I was dancing with the devil.

It’s true, though. For the sake of this very rich company getting still
richer, it has agreed to collaborate with China in subverting the
promise of the Internet as an extraordinary means of liberation and in
keeping the Chinese people in a state of abject subjugation.

More specifically, it is reported, Google will practice Chinese-style
censorship, making sure that none of the 100 million Web surfers in
China will be able to use Google to find anything by typing in such
words as “democracy” or “human rights,” or by trying to locate
non-government information on such topics as Tibetan freedom, Taiwan
independence, the Falun Gong religion or atrocities committed by their
own officials.

In return for thus blocking entry to more Web
sites than there probably are books in a dozen major libraries, as well
as pulling the trigger on blogging and e-mail, Google gets a grin, a
handshake and a have-at-it agreement from Chinese autocrats who had
previously done their best to censor the search engine themselves.

Now Google will do financial battle in this major Internet market _
second only to the United States _ with Yahoo, Microsoft and Chinese
firms as it tries to stack more money on top of the Everest-high pile
it has already accumulated. As my columnist friend Thomas Lipscomb has
reported, Google’s stock value is in excess of $80 billion, more than
that of the entire newspaper industry.

All of which means it’s time to make excuses, and they have not been long in coming.

Google co-founder Sergey Brin, as quoted in a Reuters news accounts,
says he “came to the conclusion that more information is better, even
if it is not as full as we would like to see.” No longer will Google
have to confront “the Great Firewall” of censorship erected by Chinese
officials, he said.

“France and Germany require censorship for
Nazi sites,” he is also quoted as observing, “and the U.S. requires
censorship based on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. These various
countries also have laws on child pornography.”

Yes, the best
can sometimes be enemy of the good, as Brin suggests, but the leaders
of these high-tech companies have something to offer China that it
needs, and by standing firm, by being tough, could conceivably have
bent China more in the direction of responsible, civilized behavior as
it moves ahead to superpower status.

Google _ along with Yahoo and Microsoft _ is abetting a crime against humanity while making it seem more or less OK.

The agreement to keep French and German Internet users from Nazi sites
is a regrettable abridgement of free inquiry, but does not begin to
compare to siding with some of the world’s most devoted enemies of
freedom in their iniquitous mission.

As for calling the
protection of copyrighted movies and music censorship, that’s blather,
and to liken laws prohibiting child pornography to what the Chinese are
doing is laughable.

Google’s motto, as any number of news
accounts and commentaries have noted, is, “Don’t Be Evil.” That’s not
exactly the world’s highest standard. It’s about like saying that a new
mother’s chief obligation is not to throw her baby out a second-story
window. The startling fact is that Google now has done something evil,
has tossed the baby out the window, and has put itself in a position of
doing greater evil. Yahoo _ which had earlier made Google-style
compromises _ says it was just going along with Chinese laws when it
then helped identify a Chinese journalist who had written an e-mail
about the Tiananmen Square revolt of 1989. For that deed, the
journalist is spending 10 years in prison.

I am among those who
have argued that the Internet could be the most powerful instrument
since the printing press in disseminating information and ideas that
will empower and free people, but what I left out of the calculation
was the need for those in positions of corporate authority to cling to
their integrity, no matter how much the almighty dollar tugs at them. I
haven’t given up hope. I still believe in the Internet. That belief
would be strengthened if Google would become a respectable dancing
partner by renouncing its China deal.

(Jay Ambrose,
formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard
newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is
a columnist living in Colorado. He can be reached at