An international conference in Athens, called the Internet Governance Forum, will apparently put Google on the spot over its self-censorship of its search engine in China. According to an article in yesterday's The Guardian by technology reporter David Smith (who is blogging from the conference starting tomorrow), Google will be attempting to defend its point of view in some smaller workshops at the event. Google's head of global public policy -- now that's an impressive job title -- Andrew McLaughlin explains that by hiring Chinese employees to be part of a "free", web-based company it is championing the cause for change in China.
Before I explain quickly why I side with Google on this, let me admit that the company's explanation sounds a lot like typical 19th century new-colonial self-justification for bringing civilization to backward peoples: 'If we let them work in our companies while we pillage their resources, they will become more enlightened, less brutal.' Google's take on it is that its very presence will create an inexorable drive towards freer thought.
It's for more politically sophisticated people than I am to assses whether this accurately captures neo-colonialist thought. But in the case of Google.cn the point of view is probably right. The very presence of the Google search engine infrastructure creates an aspiration for free information. . . among its local employees, among their friends and among the people with whom they converse online. And it will help enliven nascent web-culture which, as we all know, is anarchic in form and democratic in sentiment.
Besides, I am always a little leary when people suggest that companies should do more to direct government policy in other countries, as some are suggesting of Google, Microsoft et. al. Isn't that the job of governments?