Friday, January 15, 2010

Googling, Hacking and Coughing

Don't know about you, but I find the whole story about Google, hacking and their deal with the Chinese government to be fascinating, and not just because of the technical wizardry, but the ethical question at the root of it all.

I can be just as enamored of a good conspiracy theory as any X Files or Coast to Coast AM fan, but this is not a theory.

Google's desire to get a piece of the booming Chinese economy led it to do something that others of us might never agree to do, and that is agree to censorship.

Talk about your Faustian bargains, the deal they made was that if people in China wanted to look up information about subjects that make the government uncomfortable, like the Dalai Lama or Tiannamen Square, all they could get is a blank screen.

In return, they would get an opportunity to make money off all the Chinese people who are getting computers and using them like we do, to use the famous search engine to find information.

All this opening trade with China combined with the American corporate willingness to sell them everything made it possible for Chinese hackers this week to get into the vaunted Google, and Symantec, maker of anti-virus software and also Northrop Grumman, a major manufacturer of military aircraft. The fact that the accounts of Chinese dissidents and advocates for a Free Tibet were also hacked kind of points the finger at Chinese government involvement but that is not a proven fact yet.

Obviously, Google didn't mind if ordinary Chinese people were blocked from looking up certain subjects, but when the hackers got into their home turf and started messing around, then the issue became serious.

Google cannot have it both ways. You cannot have a system that allows anyone to access information and at the same time censor the process according to the whims of government officials and politicians. In the rest of the world, we even get to google the stuff that is embarrassing, disgusting, shocking or inconveniently true as well as the stuff that is amazing, heart warming, inspiring and informative.

I like Google and I use it every day. And I think it is absolutely wrong for them to become a partner with government to censor and repress. This is exactly the process outlined in George Orwell's novel 1984.

For those of you who have never read the book or seen the movie, the government employees would go back and rewrite history to make it read in a way that would support their propaganda. Facts were changed, photos were changed, so that when a person would look something up, all they saw was what the government wanted them to see.

The visionary writer came up with this cautionary tale of the future long before the founders of Google were even born, or for that matter before we had personal computers.

The hacking appears to be Google's wake up call. They are coughing and choking on the fact that agreeing to censorship was not enough to really satisfy the government demands, because they could not guarantee that people could not find a way around the censorship, so the opposition decided to hack in.

The standard should be the same all over the world. Either we have access to a free flow of information or we do not. Selling off people's freedom in order to cut out a bigger slice of profit is a bad and wrong choice in my opinion.

The hacking incident has caused them to threaten to pull out of the Chinese market. If this is what it takes to bring their consciousness up a level, good.

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