Google's China Syndrome

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What is going on at Google?

The search engine has taken criticism from free-speech advocates for accepting the Chinese government's narrow rules of engagement. But from a business and growth perspective, many in the industry agree Google made a wise decision to stick with China despite increasing restrictions imposed on the brand in that market.

"If you want to do business in China, you have to play by the rules," said Matt Spiegel in Chicago, managing director at search marketing services firm Resolution Media.

The size of the Chinese market and the presence of most Google competitors there mean the company would miss out on a lot by walking away from China.

With no presence in China, "Google's growth plans would certainly be affected [without the Chinese market], and I would think it will need to look for alternative entry points or ways to get better performance out of other markets," said Lee Odden, president of TopRank Online Marketing.

Chinese authorities block material that they consider politically sensitive. Unsurprisingly, many Chinese Internet users had trouble accessing the Web site earlier this month.

"We have heard reports that users in China are experiencing problems accessing Google.com," said a Google spokesperson from the company's Mountain View, CA, headquarters. "We are investigating this matter."

Google in January launched a censored version of the site, www.google.cn, to woo Chinese consumers, an Internet population of 56.6 million according to Nielsen//NetRatings. But it appears the company's flagship Google.com service has been "sidelined" in China.

"It was only to be expected that Google.com would be gradually sidelined after the censored version was launched in January," Reporters Without Borders said. "Google has just definitively joined the club of Western companies that comply with online censorship in China.

"It is deplorable that Chinese Internet users are forced to wage a technological war against censorship in order to access banned content," the organization said.

Chinese consumers use software -- such as Dynapass, Ultrasurf, Freegate and Garden Networks -- designed to circumvent censors, allowing news and information blocked by the Chinese firewalls to be viewed.

Still, Google knows what it's up against. Consider the testimony a senior Google executive gave Feb. 15 before the U.S. Senate subcommittee on Asia-Pacific.

"Figuring out how to deal with China has been a difficult exercise for Google," said Elliot Schrage, vice president of global communications and public affairs at Google. "The requirements of doing business in China include self-censorship -- something that runs counter to Google's most basic values and commitments as a company."
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