by Mike Masnick

Brin Admits Google May Have Made A Mistake In China?

from the saying-sorry-sometimes-helps dept

With Sergey Brin traipsing around Washington DC searching desperately for politicians, any politicians, who might want to hear what he had to say about network neutrality, it appears he made a bit of a surprising assertion. After being caught totally off-guard by the response to Google's move into China with a partially filtered search engine, and a series of attempts at explaining the rationale for the decision, Brin is now admitting that the company may have made a mistake in China, and they may end up reversing course at some point in the future. As we said at the time, whether or not you support Google's reasoning, what was surprising was that they didn't seem to have a reasonable explanation ready for how this fit with their overall corporate philosophy -- which they had used over the years to build up a tremendous amount of goodwill. Saying sorry does help to mend strained relationships, so it will be interesting to see if such public self-reflection helps re-establish some amount of trust in Google. Of course, for those who aren't comfortable with Google's actions in China, it would seem that the admission won't matter much without following it up with an actual change in policy.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    noname, Jun 7th, 2006 @ 1:08am

    I just don't understand. If you want to play the game, follow its rule. Or you can choose to quit. You can't go to other's country and say, 'Hey, no more soccer. You must play American football'. That doesn't work.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 7th, 2006 @ 1:39am


    Except in this match, the players trample upon the audience, and the audience isn't allowed to complain,or else...
    Google might decide it isn't fun to play there.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Sean, Jun 7th, 2006 @ 2:00am

    Only Mildly Evil

    Really I still don't think they did the wrong thing. Just because the Chinese government has rules different from our own, doesn't make them evil. And it's not Google's job to go around punishing people who don't follow their own personal set of morals.

    Just because you don't agree with someone, morally, doesn't mean you shouldn't do business with them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 7th, 2006 @ 2:38am

    Or does it...?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Tashi, Jun 7th, 2006 @ 2:44am

    So, it would be ok to sell guns and machetes to rebel troops who rape women and cut their breasts off? And dismiss it by saying, what people do with the weapons after we sell them is none of our business? There has to be a moral line drawn somewhere. Students drew that line with Nike in regards to sweatshop labor and people drew that line when they boycotted companies doing business with the Junta in Burma.

    There are people doing hard time in Chinese jails for posting on a blog. At the very least China blatantly violates the universal declaration of human rights set forth by the UN. which states, "

    Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

    Yahoo! and Google are participating parties in that violation.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Steve, Jun 7th, 2006 @ 5:02am

    Poor Ad Sales in China?

    I'd be more convinced of Google's change of heart if we knew if it's china business was doing well. The cynic in me says that their business there sucks and its no longer worth the risk to US sensibilites to continue doing biz there.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    me, Jun 7th, 2006 @ 5:41am


    Whether the Brin is a disenfranchised whore, because China isnt paying, or he is speaking against profit is a trivial issue. No man can undo the past.

    Integrity after the fact is weaker than integrity before the fact, but it is still much better than nothing.

    The way you tell if a person is lying is you watch their words, and action, over time, for consistency and agreement with reality.

    The real test of Brin isnt what he did, but what he does next. He can weep and wail that it was wrong to the whole world, but if he keeps doing it... what he is doing still lying.

    Its good for Americans to get an idea of the brutality and injustice that the rest of the "civilized" world lives under. It provides an understanding based in reality which in turn support opinions and decisions that are also based in reality.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    24 Fan, Jun 7th, 2006 @ 5:45am


    I think the U.S. should boycott all trade with China until they release Jack Bauer!!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Mousky, Jun 7th, 2006 @ 5:56am


    When you buy something do you make sure that not a single component was manufactured or assembled in China? Regardless if the company is private or state-owned, the Chinese government receives a piece of that action. What do you think the Chinese government is doing with that money?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 7th, 2006 @ 6:22am

    Any company that aids China in it's quest to rid the world of all human rights is pathetic.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 7th, 2006 @ 6:25am

    Genocide Only Mildly Evil ???

    The Chinese dictatorship is hell-bent on wiping their neighboring Tibet, its culture, its language, its heritage, its unique nations totally off this planet with such remorseless ruthlessness that Stalin, Mao and Hitler would all be proud of, and you're here flogging that regime as merely "different"!?


    Do you realize that even the indoctrinated imperial-era japs were a far lesser threat to China's survival than what the automaton-brained Chinese have been to their Tibetan neighbors, fifty-five years and counting!

    If a gang came and raped and killed your family and friends and stole your possessions, denied your rights and repressed you and all your mates with no end in sight, you'd still just consider them simply "different", not to voluntarily mention promoting this gang's image as "non-evil"??

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 7th, 2006 @ 6:51am

    Re: Only Mildly Evil

    Not doing business with someone because you don't agree with them morally has become less and less common. I guess they don't teach business ethics in schools anymore

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Brad Eleven, Jun 7th, 2006 @ 7:55am

    "No man can undo the past"?

    That's true, so long as others hang onto the past.

    The past is an illusion. It is not static; it is an interpreted (and therefore calculated) version of events *as*remembered*. It is not possible to predict the future, yet we all do it, every second of every day--based on the past. Each time that our predictions "come true", we are reassured that we can, indeed, guess what will happen next. We act surprised, even get upset when passing moments in the present do not match what we recall of the past.

    I agree that Google made a mistake in going for the Chinese market without so much as a GWB-style "I'm signing this, but I have the legal right to ignore it". How could they possibly do business with China after boldly declaring that they were committed to "Don't be evil" ??

    I think that, as long as Google (or any entity) is willing to reconsider its past behavior--rather than stubbornly defending its decisions as irrefutable--there's hope for the interests of the people affected by these decisions.

    That being said, I can think of several entities--both corporate and human--who have completely lost their credibility with me. I don't like them, I don't like what they've done, and I don't like how they've handled their obviously poor decisions. Maybe Google lives like that for you, i.e., unforgivable.

    At least for now. Consider that one's opinions of others--especially when based on past views of those others--is subject to change and reinterpretation. For each of these, there exists at least one revelation which will radically change one's opinion about that person/organization/group/etc.

    Of course you're entitled to your opinion. I'm saying that there is no absolute agreement about "the past". Each of us carries his/her own version of what happened and what it means--and there is absolutely no version control or log of changes to our malleable interpretations of the past.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    bruce, Jun 7th, 2006 @ 8:02am


    it's more like China is enering the internet game and saying we want to play by our rules. Analogies really suck, cause you can make them sound like they apply when they don't. "Red sails in the sunset" sink without a hull.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    eb, Jun 7th, 2006 @ 8:12am

    Re: Re: Only Mildly Evil

    That's a masterpiece of understatement. The only thing they teach in business school anymore is that a corporate officer is required to do everything in his power to benefit the corporation and make money for the shareholders.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    dirty jap, Jun 7th, 2006 @ 9:44am

    Any one that can read this comment is using a machine which is constructed and/or assembled with chinese parts and labor. If you own a toilet bowl brush or fork it probably came from china. Most of us can possibly afford our lifestyle without cheap chinese goods. If you don't like china respond via bottle with a letter written in blood.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Darve, Jun 7th, 2006 @ 9:46am

    OK, I get it. China bad. China oppressive. No business with China. Great idea. It’s easy to say “cut off all trade with China until they pull a 180 and stop with all the nasty human rights violations”. But do you think that this solution is really going to change anything? At the pace it’s moving, it doesn’t seem as though China is going to need to rely on business with the US at all in 30 years. And as the economy gets stronger and stronger the chances are good that outside influence in trying to change the government’s stance on how it treats its people will become more and more worthless. If things are going to change, it isn’t going to be “because the US told you so”. Major change needs to happen from within. We can’t make it happen, but we can help guide it a little. At least having Google in the Chinese market, even though it was a filtered version, could at least provide a larger number Chinese citizens with knowledge that there is potential out there. True, the filtered Google doesn’t really allow for an expansion of freedom of expression, but it does indirectly present the idea to a whole lot of people by just existing. Any expansion of connectivity between individuals makes scrutinized monitoring more difficult for the government to handle. Connect more people, spread more ideas (even if it’s just a little bit at a time), make change. Google in China isn’t perfect, but at least it’s something.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Scott, Jun 7th, 2006 @ 10:08am

    Re: Re: Only Mildly Evil

    This is obviously an open forum, and everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but you should really learn to differentiate between unethical, immoral and evil.

    The morality of a thing is determined by the personal value system of the person evaluating it.

    The ethical standing of something is likewise determined by the person evaluating it, but involves that person's societal influences as well.

    Definitions of evil include the words immoral or unethical, but semantically, there's an implied element of conscious intent as well. I.e. intentional wrongdoing is evil.

    The trick here is that within a society, a given act can be ethical and moral and therefore not evil. Yet members of a different society can disagree on all three points.

    Which one is right? It is a philosophical question, and one that we like to assume that we are in the right of. But then again, so do they.

    The Chinese society is so radically different from ours. Strip away the governmental differences and you're left with two opposing viewpoints. One views personal freedom and 'human rights' as paramount, the other values the improvement of their society as a whole.

    The answer is that both viewpoints have valid points, and each could, theoretically, learn from the other. A middle ground can be envisioned where the good of society is the goal but with the caveat of minimal damage to the individual's freedom.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    JM, Jun 7th, 2006 @ 10:09am


    Your comment is not insightful at all.

    The only way for Google (or any company for that matter) to do business in China is to follow the laws of their country. Google’s intentions are (rightfully) to get as much information to a suppressed people as possible. That is a far cry from intentionally taking advantage of people for cheap labor. The former is good, the latter is evil. There is a HUGE difference.

    Don't you understand that without companies pushing forward into the Chinese market their people will only suffer more? The Chinese people are far better off getting more information than less - it has to start somewhere. The Chinese government could give a rat's ass whether or not Google does business in their country - at least with a company like Google (whose intentions ARE good) making every attempt to push as much information as is allowable by the Chinese government to the Chinese people as possible the better off they are.

    All you people and your human rights issues need to stop pissing and really think about where the fight should be - it's not Google who is the bad guy here - it's the Chinese government. If you want China to change: BOYCOTT CHINESE PRODUCTS. Quit pissing on those companies that are in a unique position to actually help their people strive towards thinking for themselves.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Scott, Jun 7th, 2006 @ 10:10am


    Umm, did the Chinese government agree to be bound by that UN resolution? Did they ratify it? Are they even members of the UN?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    JM, Jun 7th, 2006 @ 10:12am

    Re: Re: Re: Only Mildly Evil

    Very insightful. I wish we had more of you here on planet USA.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    JM, Jun 7th, 2006 @ 10:14am

    Re: Re:

    Umm... yes they are members... go read the news first.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    JM, Jun 7th, 2006 @ 10:17am


    And your contribution to this discussion is even more pathetic.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    Scott, Jun 7th, 2006 @ 10:18am

    Or let nature take its course

    Survival of the fittest right? Works with governments and societies, not just species.

    Given time, China's citizens will acquire more and more freedom and eventually they will be free. The McDonalds principle, right? And if the government clamps down too hard on the people, they could revolt.

    Noone can enslave you unless you allow it. (Paraphrased, don't remember who said it.)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    JM, Jun 7th, 2006 @ 10:24am


    Absolutely. Information is the only key to freedom for any society. The more information pushed to a people the more those people will want information. You have to plant the seed somewhere because it is not going to happen overnight.

    I, for one, applaude Google and it's efforts in regards to their attempt to bring as much information as possible to the Chinese people.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. identicon
    Tyshaun, Jun 7th, 2006 @ 10:27am

    I almost feel like this is one of those people throwing stones in glass houses thing. We rail at China for its censorship and human rights issues however, let's look at a couple of things going on in America

    * Right now there is a vote going on to decide if gays shouldn't be allowed to marry, and making that a constitutiional amendment.

    * The FCC has one of the strictest policies towards things like profanity and nudity when compared to most industrialized nations

    * We STILL read reports about how religious groups in this country want to ban the teaching of things like birth control, evolutionary biology, or make it mandatory to practice Christianity in schools.

    * We have recently heard reports about how the Pentagon wants to drop the requirement that we have to follow the Geneva Convention because it "interferes with our ability to effectively interrogate prisoners" (translation, we'd like to be able to torture folks legally!)

    * We have one of the highest infant mortality rates of any of the industrialized nations. IMR rates are usually used as an indication of the quality of life of a given society (one of many).

    * at any given time 30-40% of the population aren't covered by health insurance and have access to only the most basic care in an emergency situation.

    * It's only been about 35 years or so since the last of the Jim Crow laws were officially stricken from law.

    * A womans right to choose is constantly being threatened by the conservative right of this country.

    * We have and still do operate detention centers around the world were "enemy combatants" are being detained without any formal charges or judicial review.

    * We have a long history of supporting dictators in thugs. Hell, we supported Iraq when they were at war with Iran (until we overthrew them), gave arms and money to Iran to get information about hostages (and now we are going toe-to-toe with them), we supported the Taliban when they were at war with the Russians (and later overthrew the Taliban).

    My point isn't to say America is good or China is bad it's just that before we get too self-righteous about how bad China needs to change, let's put a sharp eye on ourselves. Notice I said "I" and "we" beacause I am an American, and I take the good and the bad of my country and love it the just the same.

    As per google, if they want to divest from China, that's their decision, but I think I'd rather have my foot in the door of one of the potentially biggest economies on the planet in the future than to be left out. Political and social reform is already occuring in China, and it will continue to pick up steam as people reap the rewards of increased capitalism and exposure to the larger world culture.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. identicon
    noname, Jun 7th, 2006 @ 6:11pm

    yeah right. US invaded Iraq based on fake intelligence and killed thousands of civilians, and later claims they do it in the name of democracy. Exxon Mobil made a lot of money from the war, did u know that? Don't be so follish. Open your eyes, man. I admire Brin for his personality, but when it comes to biz, its biz talk.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. identicon
    noname, Jun 7th, 2006 @ 6:57pm

    btw, the number 1 search engine in china isn't google. I don't think it would make much difference to the Chinese if google pulls out. The real loser is google, not the Chinese government.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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