Google on Google in China

Here’s an amazing story about a company (well, a founder & senior executive) ruminating — publicly — about the ethics of a recent corporate decision. In particular, it’s Google co-founder Sergey Brin, talking about Google’s activities in China:

From the Detroit Free Press: Brin Says Google Compromised Principles (by By Ted Bridis, writing for the Associated Press)

We felt that perhaps we could compromise our principles but provide ultimately more information for the Chinese and be a more effective service and perhaps make more of a difference,” Brin said.

“It’s perfectly reasonable to do something different, to say, ‘Look, we’re going to stand by the principle against censorship and we won’t actually operate there.’ That’s an alternate path,” Brin said. “It’s not where we chose to go right now, but I can sort of see how people came to different conclusions about doing the right thing.”

Most of you already know about Google’s controversial move to offer version of its search engine in China that meets the censorship requirements of the Chinese government. (If not, see the blog entries listed below.) What amazes (and impresses) me most about the latest installment in this story is the casual transparency of (some aspects of) Google’s decision-making. Here’s the co-founder and co-president of one of the most powerful companies in the world chatting with reporters about ethics. Like, not reading a prepared statement, but thinking it through, out loud, and admitting that he’s not sure the company is on-track. Some would read this as a sign of weakness. I take it as the opposite. Who wouldn’t be uncertain about a path as clearly fraught with ethical peril as Google’s current path in China? Say what you will about the substance of Google’s strategy, you have to admire a company with the moral courage to be open about its own doubts.

Earlier Business Ethics Blog entries on this topic:

3 comments so far

  1. […] in China in a way that’s ethically acceptable to the folks back home. In this regard, Google and various pharmaceutical companies come to mind. Again, those are companies subject to […]

  2. […] moral character of the particular government involved. Think, for example, of the controversy over Google participating in censorship in China. Many people thought it was wrong for Google to implement government policy in that case because […]

  3. […] See also, from the Business Ethics Blog (2006) “Google on Google in China” […]

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