Google, Yahoo, and corporate social responsibility

It seems to me that Google is getting a bad rap. Making a censored Chinese-language search-engine available doesn’t deprive anyone of access to the English-language version, and there’s no reason to think that the Chinese government would have agreed to an uncensored version. Google’s service seems to be less censored than Microsoft’s, for example.

I can’t see any rational basis for comparing Google’s concession to reality to Yahoo’s betrayal of a reporter to the Chinese thought police. (Though Fiore’s animated cartoon is beautifully done, I don’t think he’s right to associate Google with Yahoo.) I wouldn’t even compare Google’s move to News Corp.’s willingness to censor its satellite newscasts; Google will notify the user every time a search brings back censored results, while News Corp. has simply agreed to do for China’s oligarchs what its Fox News division does for American oligarchs..

Yes, Google’s “Don’t be Evil” motto invites us to hold it to a higher standard than its competitors, but there’s a difference between holding an institution to a high standard and demanding that it act as if the real world had no constraints.

One position I haven’t seen anyone take — and can’t really imagine anyone taking seriously — is that Yahoo’s managers did the right thing by helping tyrants put an innocent person in a horrible prison for many years, if and only if they thought that doing so would maximize value for Google shareholders. What do you think, Professor Bainbridge?

Update A reader thinks my reading of the Google-in-China situation is overoptimistic:

It was my experience while in internet cafes in both Paris, Berlin or Prague

that you can’t “get to” the English language version of Google. If you type

in “www.google.com” you get www.google.fr/de/cz respectively. Searches for English language items done from these sites still yield English results,

but the Google interface is most definitely in the native language. My guess

is that the Google servers look for the country domain from which a query

comes and automatically switches one to the ‘language appropriate’ page.

But no matter how many times I typed “www.google.com” into my French web browser, I never got ‘there’.

So I figure since Google has struck an agreement with the Chinese

government, there must be some sort of filtering / redirection built into

the system when the Google servers ‘see’ a request coming from a Chinese

computer. My experience leads me to doubt that one will in fact not readily

be able to access information the Chinese government wants restricted.*

Can anyone confirm or deny? Is there a way to get to the US version of Google from abroad?

Second update

Not a problem in Japan, according to one reader:

I live in Tokyo and on a daily basis use google.com for English-language searches and google.co.jp for Japanese-language searches.

At least in the Safari browser in Mac OS X 10.3.x, typing google.com into the domain field, assigning google.com as the default search engine for the

queries field and selecting google.com from my bookmarks do not redirect me to google.co.jp or any other address.

But another reader agrees with the first:

Yes, it’s quite impossible to get the English language version of Google when abroad. I do quite a bit of business travel to Germany, Norway, Sweden and a few other countries and I can’t get an English language version of Google when I connect through the networks of the particular country. VPN’ing through to the US, of course, I can get to the English language version.

And yet a fourth report:

Reading your blog in Madrid. I type in google.com and get the Spanish site, google.es with the interface in Spanish. However, at the bottom of the page, just above the copyright where it offers links for advertising, business solutions and about google, I see a link ” google.com in English” click it and I have the google.com site. I also note that google seems to remember which page I prefer if I close the window and try again. I seem to recall doing this in Bangkok a year ago as well.

Finally, what seems to be a generalized fix:

It is possible to get a generic version of Google from any location by typing in the following URL:

http://www.google.com/ncr

Or, from my country, Japan, for example, I can access the Dutch version by

typing:

http://www.google.com/nl

I don’t know whether these tricks work from China.