Google Soul Search

Internet giants fights government Web intrusion here, knuckles under in China


This week the techies in the white hats showed up in court, as Google lawyers fought U.S. government lawyers to prevent a prosecutorial fishing expedition. The company distinguished itself by doing what competitors didn't. It is standing up for Internet confidentiality by opposing  a federal request for 1 million Web site addressed a a week of customer searches as data.

The government wants the data in order revive a law to regulated children's access to online pornography.

The defense was partially successful. A federal judge in California limited the data the government received to 50,000 Web sites and only 5,000 search requests. A Google attorney said after the hearing that if the feds had made such a limited request to begin with, the case probably would not have come to court.

It's too bad that the company executives didn't wear their white hats to the negotiation table when they were working out terms for operating in China, a nation whose repressive regime makes a mockery of the Google slogan "Don't be evil." Instead of sticking it to the censors, Google knuckled under and agreed to neuter its search mechanism to eliminate access to such controversial concepts as "democracy." To its credit, Google executives did take steps to prevent Chinese government access to the servers that contain user information.


At a congressional hearing last month, lawmakers lambasted executives from Google, Yahoo, Cisco Systems and Microsoft for their collaboration with the Chinese in designing an Internet system that the government could control. Rep. Tom Lantos, D-California, accused the companies of abandoning their stand against censorship in order to facilitate the oppression of millions of Chinese citizens. Lantos, a Holocaust survivor, likened the use of American technology in China in the service of censors to the aid some American companies gave Nazi Germany before World War II.

Google should not pick and choose in which areas of the world it will defend Internet freedom and maintain credibility with its customers. Perhaps the company should amend its slogan to read "Don't be hypocritical."