The ongoing conflict between Google and China escalated earlier this month as Google announced it had discovered that the hacking of its servers had originated from the Chinese government.
The hacking code used was traced to China’s territory, but not to the Chinese government, which, not surprisingly, denies any connection to the attack. How Google came to the conclusion that the hack had come from the Chinese government has yet to be disclosed.
China currently has the most Internet users of any country in the world. JP Morgan and Chase estimates that Google will make roughly six hundred million dollars in the Chinese market in 2010. Withdrawing from China would clearly be a poor business decision.
Google’s argument for withdrawal is that the Chinese government allegedly hacked into its servers to steal information from human rights activists. Whoever initiated the hack broke into Google’s mail servers and retrieved important documents using a Trojan virus.
This is somewhat ironic, since it only means that someone on the outside managed to accomplish what Google algorithms already do with all of the mail that passes through its servers.
Google has never been a leader when it comes to Internet privacy rights.
For example, individual user’s search histories stay in Google’s servers for up to two years.
Also, Gmail contains an algorithm that scans all mail, purportedly in order to improve the relevance of the advertisements displayed.
In addition, Google StreetView images were all compiled without even so much as asking for a waiver from anyone who inadvertently became a permanent feature within an image.
Most recently, Google Books has been widely criticized for disregarding the property rights and wishes of authors whose books it samples. The French government has publicly denounced Google for its reluctance to respect patents.
President Sarkozy has gone so far as to decry Google Books as an attack on French culture and has proposed that measures be taken against the Internet giant, including a tax that targets Google’s profits.
Admittedly, Google’s embarrassing security breach is nothing on the scale of AOL’s accidental disclosure of thousands of users’ search histories in 2006. In that case, what was intended to be company research wound up as CNN Money 57th dumbest moment in business.
But the potential remains for Google’s centrally located and extensive stores of user information to eclipse even that scandal.
Google’s questionable privacy policies have often been deemed controversial, and even prompted a parody video from The Onion titled Google Opt Out Feature Lets Users Protect Privacy by Moving to Remote Village.
Back to the current dispute, it must be remembered that Google is a business. It is not an activist organization; it is not an ethical forum; it is not a China think tank. Other businesses, especially those who have not been hit, are not going to follow Google out of China with six hundred million dollars of profits suddenly lying on the table.
The threat to pack up and leave if China does not let Google present an uncensored web is clearly a principled stand without any principled ground to stand on. The most pragmatic stand Google could make would be to stand down.
Yes, Gmail hacks are a problem, whether or not they come from the Chinese government. But Google’s own policies are a larger and ever-present threat to the same ideal of privacy.
Google could change its policies to protect privacy better internally, which would give its objection to Chinese meddling much more weight. Until that happens, however, the biggest threat to privacy for Google users is Google itself.
Story by: James Santucci, Staff Writer
See also: http://www.utulsa.edu/collegian/article.asp?article=4427