Google on China: “It was a real step backward”

Sergey Brin talks about Google's move out of China, its effect on the company's image -- and on human rights

Topics: Google, China,

Google on China: "It was a real step backward"Google co-founder Sergey Brin.

Last week, Google announced it would withdraw its Chinese operations from Beijing and instead serve the market from freer Hong Kong. The Internet giant’s co-founder, Sergey Brin, 36, discusses his company’s troubles in China and its controversial decision to pull up stakes and leave.

With your decision to close Google’s Chinese Web site, you are the first major company to have challenged the government in Beijing in this way. Are you powerful enough to take on an entire country?

I don’t think it’s a question of taking on China. In fact, I am a great admirer of both China and the Chinese government for the progress they have made. It is really opposing censorship and speaking out for the freedom of political dissent, and that’s the key issue from our side.

Four years ago, you allowed your service to be censored. Why have you changed your mind now?

The hacking attacks were the straw that broke the camel’s back. There were several aspects there: the attack directly on Google, which we believe was an attempt to gain access to Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. But there is also a broader pattern we then discovered of simply the surveillance of human rights activists.

Was it an error to agree to China’s demands back in 2006?

When we entered China, we had hoped that we could really help move Internet freedoms there forward. And I think we were partly successful. In the first few years, the kinds of policies we adopted — for example, labeling when there were results omitted — were also adopted by Baidu, the leading local competitor. But things really went backward after the Olympics. We got far more requests for censorship of topics and queries. Furthermore, a number of our other services like YouTube were competely blocked from the country. It was a real step backward, we felt.

Some human rights activists argue that you could have achieved more if you had stayed.

You can always make the argument that a little bit is better than nothing. At some point you have to stand back and challenge this and say, this goes beyond the line of what we’re comfortable with and adopt that for moral reasons.

But isn’t this also a major PR coup that will help to polish a public image of Google that has suffered recently?

No, for us it has always been a discussion about how we can best fight for openness on the Internet. We believe that this is the best thing that we can do for preserving the principles of the openness and freedom of information on the Internet.

As a six year old, you emigrated with your family from the Soviet Union. Did this have any influence on the decision?

It certainly framed my point of view. Having come from a totalitarian country, the Soviet Union, and having seen the hardships that my family endured — both while there and trying to leave — I certainly am particularly sensitive to the stifling of individual liberties.

What, exactly, happened back then?

As a child, I wasn’t so directly touched, but I do recall that after we had applied for exit visas, we had the police visit our house, my father lost his job. There was always a feeling of fear. I don’t think anybody should experience that.

Other Internet firms have been surprised by your action. Microsoft founder Bill Gates said Chinese efforts to censor the Internet “have been very limited,” and his company wants to continue operating there, business as usual.

I am puzzled by those statements, to hear progressive tech companies take that point of view

Do you fear that Microsoft’s own search engine, Bing, could take Google’s place in China?

Don’t forget, we are still serving China. We are serving it from Hong Kong. There are certainly challenges that come with serving outside the Great Firewall and there is a little advantage for our competitors. But don’t forget that our primary competitor in China, marketshare-wise, has always been Baidu. I don’t know that Bing has any substantial market share to begin with.

Do you now fear that you will lose China, a huge potential future market?

If you adopt that point of view then you would agree to completely arbitrary limitations and distortion. If you take the point of view that you have to be friendly with the Chinese government and they can make arbitrary demands of you, then you can’t really run a business. I really don’t think that is a practicable way to proceed.

Will the United States government back you on this matter?

No, I don’t think that they will do anything for us. But I do think that the US government appears to take the broader question of information freedoms seriously.

Will the step you have taken also be helpful to critics of the Chinese regime?

Once again, we are not criticizing the government of China as a whole. This is not an anti-government stance, this is a stance against the concrete set of policies, and, yes, I hope that over time those policies are changed and reversed and that access to information is globalized in China.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Burger King Japan

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Burger King's black cheeseburger: Made with squid ink and bamboo charcoal, arguably a symbol of meat's destructive effect on the planet. Only available in Japan.

    Elite Daily/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    McDonald's Black Burger: Because the laws of competition say that once Burger King introduces a black cheeseburger, it's only a matter of time before McDonald's follows suit. You still don't have to eat it.

    Domino's

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Domino's Specialty Chicken: It's like regular pizza, except instead of a crust, there's fried chicken. The company's marketing officer calls it "one of the most creative, innovative menu items we have ever had” -- brain power put to good use.

    Arby's/Facebook

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Arby's Meat Mountain: The viral off-menu product containing eight different types of meat that, on second read, was probably engineered by Arby's all along. Horrific, regardless.

    KFC

    2014's fast food atrocities

    KFC'S ZINGER DOUBLE DOWN KING: A sandwich made by adding a burger patty to the infamous chicken-instead-of-buns creation can only be described using all caps. NO BUN ALL MEAT. Only available in South Korea.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Waffle Taco: It took two years for Taco Bell to develop this waffle folded in the shape of a taco, the stand-out star of its new breakfast menu.

    Michele Parente/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Krispy Kreme Triple Cheeseburger: Only attendees at the San Diego County Fair were given the opportunity to taste the official version of this donut-hamburger-heart attack combo. The rest of America has reasonable odds of not dropping dead tomorrow.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Quesarito: A burrito wrapped in a quesadilla inside an enigma. Quarantined to one store in Oklahoma City.

    Pizzagamechangers.com

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Boston Pizza's Pizza Cake: The people's choice winner of a Canadian pizza chain's contest whose real aim, we'd imagine, is to prove that there's no such thing as "too far." Currently in development.

    7-Eleven

    2014's fast food atrocities

    7-Eleven's Doritos Loaded: "For something decadent and artificial by design," wrote one impassioned reviewer, "it only tasted of the latter."

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>