Google-China: The Plot Thickens

It's been just two days since I last wrote about the Google-China soap (not soup) opera, and yet it feels like weeks, so much has happened in the interim. To wit:

Earlier this week, Google's U.S. corporate site suddenly displayed in Chinese. (A "bug," Google called it. Yeah, right.) On Wednes

day, YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook traffic was suddenly redirected to Chinese servers, allowing international Netizens a rare glimpse of how the Great Firewall operates. Some unknown parties apparently hacked one of the DNS Root Servers in Sweden, causing traffic to flow in the wrong direction. YouTube also went completely offline for about an hour on Wednesday morning (that one was due to "a technical issue," per Google).

[ Also on InfoWorld: Catch up on Cringely's take on Google's struggle with China in "Google: A bull in China's shop" | Google has another public battle to wage. See "Viacom vs. Google: As the Tube turns" | Stay up to date on all Robert X. Cringely's observations with InfoWorld's Notes from the Underground newsletter. ]

Coincidence? No way. The nefarious machinations of the Chinese government? Maybe. My theory is that it's either pranksters out to cause trouble or techies inside China who are PO'd about Google's stance and flexing their geek muscle, independent of any top-down directives. In any case, I think we're about to see a whole more of this kind of thing before the dust settles.

Meanwhile, domain registrar GoDaddy is kicking up a little dust of its own. It announced it's no longer in the business of signing up people for .cn domains in China. The reason: The Chinese government's onerous requirements for registering domains, which includes providing photo IDs, identification numbers, and physical copies of signed documents for every registrant. Worse, GoDaddy says China wants it to go back and provide this data on its customers for the past six years. That's what prompted them to exit the mainland.

(The way Beijing acts, you'd think they were building the


Yet both Wired and the ever-subtle Michael Arrington are calling GoDaddy's move "a publicity stunt," somehow equating it with the company's racy Super Bowl ads featuring NASCAR star Danica Patrick (all puns intended). So in other words, if you make sexy ads, everything else you do doesn't count. GoDaddy General Counsel Christine Jones explains:

"We were having to contact Chinese users to ask for their personal information and begrudgingly give it to Chinese authorities," Jones told Congress. "We decided we didn't want to become an agent of the Chinese government."

"It would be very difficult to say we don't track publicity at Go Daddy because we do," Jones told on Thursday. "This is not the Go Daddy PR machine cranking up. You can point fingers at us around the Super Bowl, but not here."

Personally, I don't think it's a principled stand as much as a practical one. Why endure the hassle and expense of doing something you didn't want to do in the first place? The fact that .cn registrations represent a fraction of a percent of GoDaddy's business probably made the decision a lot easier.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress -- ever alert for hot-button issues where it can make a lot of noise without actually having to do anything -- jumped in with both feet, praising Google and condemning Microsoft for continuing to do business as usual in the Central Kingdom.

Arrington is defending Microsoft for not taking a principled stand on China. (Makes you wonder how much MFST stock he's holding in his portfolio.) He also called Google's move a hypocritical publicity stunt (see "ever subtle," above).

Is Google's move a publicity stunt? Hardly. Is it hypocritical? Perhaps. But I think Cringester G. D. summed it up rather nicely in an email:

Whether Google is leaving China for altruistic reasons or not, it still shows it has more gumption than virtually any company and many governments. One is reminded of countries and companies being afraid to offend Nazi Germany until we went to war with them. At what point does greed justify anything of good in this world? I used to think of Google as too powerful a company and that its power of necessity made it a concern for intellectual freedom. But outside of internal Chinese activists, Google is the only organization in the world that is standing up to China....

Where is our humanity, our ethics? China is the largest creditor for our U.S. mountain of public debt. Pretty soon we will be faced with an Icelandic question of whether we will tax our own people to pay this monstrosity? We are taking part in a serious downfall if we all do not stand up to China.

Should we all stand up to China? And if so, who's going to pay our debts when they call in their markers? E-mail

This story, "Google-China: The Plot Thickens" was originally published by InfoWorld.

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