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