License for Ill

June 20th, 2007  |  Published in etc  |  2 Comments

Google just scored an “Internet content license” in China:

Licensing concerns in China have hampered Google’s efforts to advertise its services and introduce Web applications, such as its popular Gmail service, hindering the Mountain View, Calif.-based company’s efforts to become the local market leader.

So an edit to a past entry is in order:

I’ve known about Yahoo’s nasty habit of handing information over that helps convict Chinese dissidents for just over a year, and I’ve never been comfortable with it.

At the same time, I guess I was rationalizing the whole thing by noting that other companies over there, Google and Microsoft for instance, haven’t exactly distinguished themselves as exemplars of courage. The difference, however, is that Google and Microsoft don’t couldn’t offer services that would involve being put in the position of giving up a user’s information.

But now it may soon be in exactly that position. Worse, it appears the company has had to do a little bowing and scraping to get there. The Chinese government made it clear that it will more carefully scrutinize attempts to form proxy local companies to get around its regulations, which is apparently what Google first attempted.

gl. recently asked “i forgot gmail wasn’t in china yet. but it can’t be too long before they will be, in which case, what then?”

I wasn’t sure whether to read that as “What will Google do then?” or “What will you do then,” didn’t get past that minor point of confusion, and so I never replied.

I guess the answer in terms of Google merely being in China and offering mail is the same as it was when Google was merely in China and offering search: Grumble about it but continue to draw the line between “not good … bad” (Google’s search censorship) and “evil” (“knowingly and willfully aiding and abetting in the commission of torture and other major abuses violating international law.”)

I mean, I’m sure Owen Lars sold some of the moisture he was harvesting to the local Imperial garrison over in Mos Eisley. To the extent he was doing business with a demonstrably evil regime, helping solve what is, no doubt, a prickly logistical problem (stormtroopers on desert planet, need water, how to get it to them?), what he was doing was not good. We can offer him a small break because it seems likely the local garrison commander would have been happy to take his refusal to sell water as a sign of more treasonous impulses, had him executed, and granted a contract to run the newly abandoned farm to a small crew of degenerate jawas. Or just taken his business elsewhere, because the farmers outside Mos Eisley are generally more friendly toward authority figures.

Still and all, though, he was probably doing business with the stormtroopers: selling them a resource that helped them prolong their grip on Tatooine, since getting it locally meant they could stave off the sort of economic contradictions that inevitably undo centralized economies once more complex market variables are introduced.

He was part of the problem.

So was his neighbor down there in the ‘burbs outside Anchorhead: Selling water from the family moisture farm, staying home on election day in “protest” of Imperial meddling in local industry, maybe subscribing to newsgroups like soc.politics.therebellionagainsttheempire, volunteering to some stormtroopers that he was down by Owen Lars’ place yesterday and saw exactly the droids they were looking for because the stormtroopers pay good coin to finks if they don’t have to ask first.

That last bit? That’s what makes him evil.

If Google gets tagged for coughing up e-mail and helping to imprison a dissident, it will have done evil. I have no doubt that if that happens, Google will release a few open source APIs, maybe introduce some cool new beta app, get someone to blog about how nice it is that there’s free on-premises daycare at every Google campus or somesuch, and refuse to answer media queries about the event outside bland acknowledgment of the regrettable tradeoffs we all make to do business with authoritarian regimes.

What will I do?

Take advantage of the fact that Google offers nothing I can’t provide for myself or through a less conflicted provider, and quit using Google stuff, even if it is “free.”

Google won’t care and China will continue imprisoning and torturing people for the crime of speaking the truth.


  1. gl. says:

    June 21st, 2007 at 1:42 am (#)

    er, yes. i meant, “what will mph do?”

    sven will be amused to note you made a star wars analogy. :)

  2. dot unplanned » Yahoo! Says Giving Dissidents Up to Torturers is Its First Amendment Right says:

    August 28th, 2007 at 12:38 pm (#)

    […] License for Ill […]

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