Google's puzzling logic
For many, what's endearing about Google is that it doesn't conduct business like most big multinationals.
Most big multinationals, for example, wouldn't go to war against China's freedom-of-speech policies via a blog - which is what Google has done.
Some might also argue that Google's argument in its blog isn't over-burdened with logic.
The "don't-be-evil" company starts by disclosing that "in mid-December, we detected a highly sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate infrastructure originating from China that resulted in the theft of intellectual property from Google".
Google investigated and discovered there had been similar attacks on "at least twenty" other big companies (unnamed), in a great range of sectors (finance, chemicals, technology, media).
So far so chilling.
But, apparently, this wasn't a classic attempt to steal industrial secrets. The prime motivation was it seems to hack into the Gmail accounts of "Chinese human rights activists" - although Google has not made explicit whether that was the purpose of the cyber raids on all the affected companies, or just the attack on Google.
That said, Google is confident that the hackers were unable to retrieve any material information from this malign initiative. But its probe did discover that "the accounts of dozens of U.S.-, China- and Europe-based Gmail users who are advocates of human rights in China appear to have been routinely accessed by third parties."
It says that these accounts were probably accessed using phishing scams or malware rather than through a breach of Google's own security arrangements.
All of which is pretty shocking.
But Google then makes a slightly curious leap.
It says "these attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered - combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web - have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China."
It says it will pull out of China unless the Chinese authorities belatedly allow it to run an "unfiltered" search engine there. No longer will Google collaborate in censoring access to websites and online information deemed by the Chinese government to be harmful to the state.
Which, on the face of it, is not a logical reaction. Some Google shareholders (those who put a higher premium on profits than on democratic rights) will see this as a commercial example of cutting off your nose to spite your face - because it is not remotely clear how a withdrawal from China by Google would enhance the privacy of Chinese human rights activists.
Of course, there is the power of theatre. Google's statement that it wants an unfettered Chinese search engine or none at all is certainly a big bold gesture that shines a light on systematic infringement of freedom of expression in that country.
But most campaigners for this freedom would argue that Google should never have agreed to be censored when launching its China service in January 2006.
And I suppose cynics would point out - and I'm not one of them - that China is an unusual market for Google in a second sense: Google doesn't dominate the search market there; it's the number two with a 31% share, way behind Baidu's 64%.
So Google's discovery that there are moral imperatives which outweigh the profit-motive should not be as expensive as it might have been.
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