Nearly three years ago to the day I sat down to write a story about Google in China that left me utterly depressed at the state of the IT industry and Western civilisation. Judging from our comments section, I was not alone.
Google announced in 2006 that it was to set up shop in China. This was expected, but what was not expected was that the company would censor its search results, in spite of this breaking its core values.
It was like finding out that Luke Skywalker's father had crossed over to the Dark Side; like the realisation that your childhood pet had not been taken to a farm in the country to chase rabbits but was instead stiffening in a vet's bin, or the understanding that Mummy and Daddy really aren't getting back together ever again.
Google wasn't supposed to be like this. I've been an enthusiast for the company for many years, ever since I heard about it and tried its technology. The search engine was a beautiful bit of work and remains my home page, but Google was about attitude every bit as much as technology.
The company promised to be everything that companies like Microsoft were not. It looked after its staff and allowed them a level of freedom unheard of in the industry. It managed its IPO so that everyone could have a chance of shares, and had a corporate philosophy of 10 principles that was truly admirable.
Article six of Google's 10 philosophies states: 'You can make money without doing evil.' Article eight states: 'The need for information crosses all borders.' It was hard to see how this could be reconciled with the move into China.
I'd been following China closely ever since a school friend of mine was nearly killed in the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989, and was only saved by her Chinese hosts coming into the riot to guide her to safety. After that first brief flowering of hope, China settled back to repression in a way that the rest of the Communist world had abandoned.
Initially it looked hopeful that the internet would do what the students and workers in Tiananmen Square couldn't and force change in China. Surely, once the gates of knowledge were opened and private conversations became easier, the government would be forced to unravel the controls to which it subjected its citizens.
As it turns out, this was another forlorn hope. The Chinese state, with the help of Western technology companies like Cisco, built the so-called Great Firewall of China and now rigidly controls information within the country.
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