Google and China: Business morality or reality?

This week was as interesting as always with regard to Google. We should be accustomed now by our news in the Internet marketing industry being dominated by Google. It’s just the way it is. If you feel the urge to cry “Monopoly!” don’t, because you need to check the definition of a monopoly. You see, a monopoly is a company that has cornered a market and does not allow for competition to exist. Microsoft on the desktop reeks of monopoly but Google, on the other hand, smells like something different. That different smell is dominance. It’s outperforming everyone and their brother at the game they play. For now, at least, it is being the king of the hill and not showing any signs of weakness.

That’s in the US and much of the rest of the world. China, on the other hand, is a different story. This week Google decided that it was no longer going to play the required game just to be a distant second to China’s search engine of choice, Baidu. The game was that it needed to censor search results to make the Chinese government happy. Hey, if you want access to the largest market on the planet, you need to be a nice house guest.
What was it that Ben Franklin said about house guests? House guests are like fish in that if they stay around your house more than three days they begin to stink. In this case though, it wasn’t Google that stunk. It was the Chinese and their tactics. You see, China has decided that hacking into human activists’ Gmail accounts is a good thing to do in order to keep tabs on the people that prefer freedom. As a result, Google as a whole was suddenly at risk and could be perceived as suspect on security, even though nothing was truly accessed. Reuters reports that 30 companies may have “attacked” by someone in China (read: the government), so this is not just a Google issue.
Google’s response has been to play the trump card of saying that they will no longer censor their search results. As you might guess, the Chinese government thinks that is not a very good option. In an almost masterful way, Google has done something that few could pull off.
Suppose that they are playing this game which places them on the moral high road, and they know they are likely to get bounced out of China on their ear because of it. Sure, they lose a lot of potential revenue but they also create something else; a new business reality for other companies (i.e other search companies etc) that desire to do business with the Chinese. How will it look if Google gives the impression that they will walk away from huge potential sums of money because of Chinese policies on human rights and this whole espionage thing, but others stay there and try to do business with the Chinese?
What is the new perception of those that stay? I would have to say pretty negative. These companies will be perceived as bowing to the Chinese way of doing things just to make a buck. Oh, and they are doing it in a place that has possibly the worst human rights record on the planet. Talk about a reputation management issue.
Google, on the other hand? They look like the model world corporate citizen for standing up to the Chinese. Sure they lost some opportunity there, but the rest of the world thinks they are heroes. All of this too, in the only market of any value on the earth that Google was getting its butt handed to them by a competitor (Baidu). No one is looking at that, though. They are going to hold up Google as defender of human rights and the company that stared down the Chinese government.
In this world of little genuine corporate activism, how will Google look to everyone? Pretty darn good. Nice move Google.

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