I heartily applaud Google’s decision to stop cooperating with China’s truth-censorship policies.
Given Google’s semi-official motto “Don’t be Evil,” it’s hard to imagine what they had in mind when they agreed to comply with Chinese requirements in the first place.Â Did they think that they could circumvent or overpower or outlast the Chinese censors?Â It would be comforting to think that was their plan.Â More comforting is that when the Chinese “Great Firewall” became too onerous,Â Google left.
Tactically, Google scores points for having retreated the minimum possible distance, to Hong Kong where state censorship is still forbidden.Â Further, Google did their best to minimize casualties among their Chinese workers:
- They stated explicitly that intra-China managers had no part in the strategic decision or the implementation.
- They did their best to support their workers in China:Â R&D remains, and the ad-sales organization is retained even as their focus shifts.
More important, strategically Google decided that being just a little bit evil was quite bad enough, and must stop.
Many other companies have faced the same sort of moral/commercial dilemma, and groped for a middle ground.Â “It’s not really ‘evil,’” they argue, “just different values and, in particular, required by local law. “Â “We had to do it,” they say, “to do business in that country.”
Any defense based on “had to… to do business” is an obfuscatory way to say “had to… to get the money.“Â Harsh?Â No.Â Companies can keep their morals unsullied by saying ‘no’ to requirements that are against their values.Â The only thing they lose is some money.
It’s true that modern companies exist to make money for their shareholders.Â They do not, however, have to do it regardless of the cost.Â Almost all companies would draw the line somewhere (i.e., murder, slavery) but they still tolerate smaller misdeeds.Â “It’s not ‘evil’,” they might say, “just ‘bad’.”
My answer is, “Don’t be Weasels.”Â If a company is ashamed or embarrassed by the morality of its practices, it should not try to find a legalistic weaselly way to justify the practices.Â Instead, it should be strong enough to say “This violates our ethics, so we will not do it.Â We will forgo some money earned, but it would have been dirty money.”
Google has finally chosen to stop being weasels in their cooperation with China. Â This is good, and a good example to the rest of the international business world.