1 February 2006

Censorship in Pursuit of Profit

While Google battles the U.S. government over a subpoena seeking user search result data, it consents to play censor for the Chinese government. It is curious that tech company giants like Microsoft, Cisco, Oracle and Yahoo have traversed the same route of providing repression services in China for some time, but once Google entered the fray, the U.S. Congress gets involved.

While Google's actions appear to be less objectionable that some of their industry brethen, it still raises a question on the moral culpability of corporate aiding and abetting totalitarian governments. Giving them the tools to efficiently track and punish dissidents and other political foes, while not on a scale of delivering ovens to a maniac government to committ genocide, strikes me as morally wrong.

However, many are rallying to Google's defense, with a belief that the wonderous technology Google provides can only aid reform movements there. And it's not as if the U.S. government hasn't resorted to such draconian crackdowns and seizures.

But I think that the internet is bigger than Google, or Microsoft, or Yahoo!, or any other search engine provider. In fact, I'd wager that as this world wide web phenomenon continues to evolve, the traditional search engines will become less signficant, and supplanted by superior social bookmarking and/or community sites. Web applications like, reddit, or any future upstart where a better mix of user participation acts as a stronger virtual filter, sifting out the spam, axes the astroturf attacks, and allots top ranking to quality content. Algorithmic power, alone, without diffusible control, will prove inferior. Even the big dog search engine companies are keen to such eventual shifts.

And while it's not certain to me that this condition will remain true in coming years, the internet thus far interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.