Some arguments in support of Google’s participation in Chinese censorship:
From Google itself, arguing that service for Chinese users will be better overall, and that some information is better than no information at all:
Google users in China today struggle with a service that, to be blunt, isn’t very good. Google.com appears to be down around 10% of the time. Even when users can reach it, the website is slow, and sometimes produces results that when clicked on, stall out the user’s browser. Our Google News service is never available; Google Images is accessible only half the time. At Google we work hard to create a great experience for our users, and the level of service we’ve been able to provide in China is not something we’re proud of.
This problem could only be resolved by creating a local presence, and this week we did so, by launching Google.cn, our website for the People’s Republic of China. In order to do so, we have agreed to remove certain sensitive information from our search results. We know that many people are upset about this decision, and frankly, we understand their point of view. This wasn’t an easy choice, but in the end, we believe the course of action we’ve chosen will prove to be the right one.
Bill Gates also supports American IT companies working with the Chinese government (from Times UK article):
Mr Gates argued today that freedom of information is available in China, despite sites discussing issues such as Tiananmen Square and Taiwan being blocked.
“I do think information flow is happening in China … saying that even by existing there contributions to a national dialogue have taken place. There’s no doubt in my mind that’s been a huge plus.”
And Bill Thompson of the BBC also thinks that this is the best way for companies like Google to enact positive change within China:
But if we in the West, with our liberal political culture and our attempts to build open societies, do not engage with China then we lose the opportunity to influence them and convince them of the benefits that this brings. If the Chinese government fears instability then we should offer help and advice and support, not closed borders and locked doors.
Different circumstances require different responses, and just because sanctions were the right way to put pressure on apartheid South Africa does not mean that a technology blockade is the way to influence China.
Constructive engagement in a way that respects but also challenges local law seems a far better option, and that, for all its risks, is what Google is attempting to do.
They may make some money out of it, but that’s fine, because they may also show the Chinese leadership that openness can bring benefits as well as pose threats.
UPDATE: I’ve noticed that Google has linked to this post from their post defending their action. It should be noted that I don’t support Google’s decision to become complicit with China’s censorship of the information its citizens can access. While arguments can be made in favor of such action (mostly economic arguments that benefit Google), it is against Google’s core values, and violates Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. [emphasis added]