Google reconsiders approach in China

Marketplace Staff Jan 13, 2010

Google reconsiders approach in China

Marketplace Staff Jan 13, 2010


Kai Ryssdal: It takes a certain amount of chutzpah to walk away from the biggest consumer market on the planet. But that is where Google appears to be today. Last night the company posted an interesting announcement on its blog. That in the face of cyber attacks aimed at some of its e-mail account holders, the company is rethinking whether it really wants to be doing business in China. David Drummond is Google’s chief legal officer. His is the name at the bottom of that blog post from last night. Mr. Drummond, welcome to the program.

DAVID DRUMMOND: Well, thanks for having me, Kai.

Ryssdal: These cyber attacks that you wrote about last night. You don’t actually say it, but I gather you either know or suspect that they were done by the Chinese government.

DRUMMOND: Well, we don’t know that. What we can say is that it came from China, very organized, and targeted toward dissidents, definitely politically motivated. And that was enough to really cause us to rethink our approach.

Ryssdal: When you say rethink your approach, what you really mean is the possibility of Google not doing business in China eventually.

DRUMMOND: Well I suppose that’s a possibility. But what we’ve done is thrown this back to the Chinese government to tell them we’re no longer interested in censoring our search results, but if we can find a way for us to operate there, without having to do that, we would love to. And indeed that’s our preferred option. But we are realistic about the response we might get back.

Ryssdal: You and other search companies that operate in China have been roundly criticized for censoring your search results. Make the case for me, why do you do that?

DRUMMOND: We made the decision that the prospect of us being there and being part of the forces for openness, you know, that by being there we could help improve access to information for the Chinese people. We would censor less than the domestic search engines do. If the situation changed, and we felt it wasn’t opening, we wouldn’t hesitate to rethink our position. And that’s what we’ve done.

Ryssdal: You said you’ve thrown it back to the Chinese government, this issue of censoring search. Have you heard anything from them in the last 24 hours?

DRUMMOND: Well, we expect to have some conversations very soon.

Ryssdal: Google is not the biggest search engine in China, which kind of raises this question. If you guys go away is China going to miss you?

DRUMMOND: Well, we’ve actually have seen quite an outpouring today of support from Chinese Internet users. Many of them actually showing up at our office and laying flowers down in the front of our office.

Ryssdal: Let me ask you the broader contextual question, as Chinese increases its role on the global economic stage, is this just something that companies doing business there are going to have to get used to? The fact that they’re learning how to use their muscle and their might.

DRUMMOND: Well I think so. I think that it’s important for companies with values to stand up for them and decide when enough is enough. The thing that I think is also important is that Western governments, the U.S. government, needs to get more involved to put pressure on China to open up. And to be part of the global community, China has to allow more of that to happen.

Ryssdal: David Drummond. He’s the chief legal officer at Google. He wrote the blog post last night on the Google blog announcing their troubles, you might say, with the Chinese government. Mr. Drummond, thanks so much for your time.

DRUMMOND: Well, thanks so much for having me.

We’re here to help you navigate this changed world and economy.

Our mission at Marketplace is to raise the economic intelligence of the country. It’s a tough task, but it’s never been more important.

In the past year, we’ve seen record unemployment, stimulus bills, and reddit users influencing the stock market. Marketplace helps you understand it all, will fact-based, approachable, and unbiased reporting.

Generous support from listeners and readers is what powers our nonprofit news—and your donation today will help provide this essential service. For just $5/month, you can sustain independent journalism that keeps you and thousands of others informed.