Thursday, January 26, 2006

What happened to Google's 'don't be evil'

With the announcement of Google opening a search engine in China, and agreeing the the Chinese government's limits, you have to wonder: Is Google becoming evil?

Could be.

Or, just maybe, it's a trojan horse.

Here's my Doing Business With China story and how I think it might relate to what Google's doing right now with it's internet business in the Middle Kingdom.

I used to work for Motorola back in the mid to late 90's where I ran new business creation for a recently created multimedia group. This group lived inside of a business unit that was responsible for creating services business within 'greenfield' (not yet penetrated by the company) markets. Places like Asia and S. America. Mostly for Motorola products like cellphones and pagers.

So, after I'd been there for two weeks, they asked me: What can we do with some of our new products and with our friends at Kodak?

So I made up a product and business that combined Kodak digital camera's (just coming into their own) and the Irridium sat phone technology that Mot was just getting up and running (a sat based phone that would work anywhere on the surface of the planet).

The idea was: Create a kiosk with a camera in it that would link the mass of young adults who were moving from China's countryside to the cities back with their parents. The kids (about 100 million of them) would send emails and pictures back to their rural parents through these kiosks placed a post offices around china. The kiosks would have Kodak cameras in them, and it would be linked by the Irridium network (since there was no infrastructure in China's rural areas).

I thought is a kind of interesting. But only kind of. It was one of several ideas but it had a Camera in it, and our boss was friends with the CEO of Kodak. So..we pitched it to the CEO of Kodak at the time and he loved it (go figure). A 30 min meeting with him went on for 3 hours.

So we went to build a prototype. I spent alot of time in China and in New York (Kodak) getting things worked out.

My secret goal: Sneak the internet into China. Create informational freedom. Open up the country to new ideas and the internet way.

It's SO nice to be ignorant of reality at times. But only in the beginning.

I wanted to use an internet protocol based server in each kiosk (using standand POP type mail to send the pictures and messages around the country). I figured, if I could get an internet server into every city and village in China (or, at least, several thousand), I could backdoor the Internet into the country. And if there was a company that could pull it off, it was Motorola. It was worth a shot.

Man, was I ever wrong.

China get's the power of information. They control it. Period. The post office, in China, is run by the Military (yea.. it would be like the US Army 'owning' the mail system in the US). They required that we give them tools to read every message sent over this system. EVERY message. No exceptions. If we wouldn't do that, they wouldn't let us put it in place.

(side note: I don't know if this is still true, but at the time, people in China didn't seal their envelopes when sending standard paper mail. They knew it would be opened anyway, so why bother?).

I agreed to do this. I hated it, but I also thought: well, it's a crack in the wall. Maybe, just maybe, we can still work real internet access in over time. I was willing to allow some 'evil' (the government reading all your messages) in order to get my foot in the door so, later, I could do some good (you can't really control the internet, once it's in place- or so I believed at the time).

So how does this relate to Google being evil or not being evil?

It's China, not Google, that's being evil (relatively speaking).

If you want to be in China, you do business by their rules. No exceptions. If you don't, then you're out. Since every 5th person on the planet is Chinese, it's a bad idea to ignore them if you're in the 'capture all human knowledge' business like Google. So, you play by their rules.

AND, if you're enlightened, you hope, over time, the power of the internet, like water on a rock, will eventually wear down the Chinese government walls of censorship and oppression of information.

Personally, that's what I think (hope) Google is doing here.

Time will tell.

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An excellent read from an ex-evangelical.

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