After lengthy consideration, Google launched Google.cn, a China-based search engine that discloses to its users when information is censored.
How responsible is it for IT companies to curtail information dissemination for the sake of profit? In testimony before the Committee on International Relations, Google's vice president of global communications and public affairs, Elliot Schrage, explained that Google was one of the last Internet search giants to enter the Chinese market. Also, he noted that many countries censor material on the Internet, including the United States, which once banned child pornography sites in Pennsylvania. France filters neo-Nazi content from its search engines. Germany blocks access to foreign-based hate sites. Iran filters political sites that are critical of the government. Why focus on China?
"Because," Cruz says, "China is profitable. The Internet in the Asia Pacific Rim will be worth hundreds of billions of dollars in the next five to ten years. IT companies know it, and they have been quick to acquiesce to the needs of the Chinese government in order to grab a piece of the pie."
Amnesty International has not overlooked the fact that Google has struggled with its principles over this decision. And it recognizes that of Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft, only Google has met Amnesty's call for transparency in filtered searches. Wouldn't Google be doing more of a disservice to the Chinese by not providing a Chinese-based search engine? According to Cruz, no.
"This type of censorship has never led to anything productive," Cruz says. "It has always been used to oppress the views of those who challenged the status quo. When these companies say 'a censored search engine is better than none at all,' I believe this is a slap in the face to the Chinese men and women who fight this repressive government."
While Amnesty International continues to draw attention to China's government, China is very much a part of the global economy. With China in the World Trade Organization, can companies like Google resist joining the rest of the global community? Google has called on the US government to treat censorship as a barrier to trade, but censorship has not stopped them from entering China.
The US government opposes the United Nations business norms declaration, which decrees that companies are obligated under international law to protect human rights. The US delegation states that human rights abuses are the result of national governments, not private enterprises. With their own country openly questioning the role of companies in overseas human rights abuses, is it fair to call these companies complicit for following the rules of trade? SFBG