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Google executive freed in Egypt

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Kai Ryssdal: The only thing Google has had to say about the protests in Egypt came today. The company expressed “huge relief” that a key Google marketing executive for the Middle East has been released. He’d been detained in Egypt since late January; he vanished just a couple of days after the protests began. And his very public support for the political opposition there put Google in an interesting position, astride the fine line between corporate interests and political activism.

Marketplace’s Janet Babin reports.

Janet Babin: Google executive Wael Ghonim’s Twitter protest updates from Egypt helped to make him a hero with anti-government protesters. But his political stance could be problematic for Google. It wants to do business in Egypt, but it also has maintained credibility with its users.

Kenneth Rogoff is an economics professor at Harvard University.

Kenneth Rogoff: The typical person using Google wants to think that they’re getting the best information out there, and if they don’t, they might look for someone else to give it to them.

The search giant hasn’t commented on whether it approves of Ghonim’s actions. But it did launch a service to help Egyptians use Twitter when Internet service was restricted by the government.

Eswar Prasad at the Brookings Institution says Ghonim’s actions are consistent with Google’s corporate philosophy.

Eswar Prasad: It’s a very unnerving prospect if in fact other types of companies like Google that are all about information flow are going to be taken to task just for providing channels of that information flow.

Prasad says emerging markets with authoritarian regimes present unique challenges to information companies like Google.

Prasad: Given the populations and the rising incomes, these are going to be much larger markets that the U.S. I think it’s very difficult for them to stick so much to principles that they lose access to these markets.

Google ran up against this problem in China last year: The government wanted Google to self-censor searches on its Chinese website. A compromise was reached, but Google’s formerly growing market share in Chinese search has since cooled.

In New York, I’m Janet Babin for Marketplace.

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