Thursday, December 23, 2004

Chinese-Language Google News

A somewhat older item, but very juicy. Also the incident that influenced my choice of a name for my blog.

Here is Google's official proclamation China, Google News and source inclusion. It states: "For users inside the People's Republic of China, we have chosen not to include sources that are inaccessible from within that country."

Which is wrong.

First, I want to clarify that I have great respect for Google. They have done a great job of providing high-quality search results, as well as a large number of other things. Still, their decision to go along with the People's Republic of China (PRC)'s censorship was morally wrong. The PRC's censorship is immoral, and support of an immoral act is also immoral.

Now some answers to arguments that have been raised by people I talked about this issue.

A: If Google didn't do it, someone else would anyway.

This is an utilitarian argument, a mindset which I strongly oppose. Utilitarian ethics, or Zielethik, puts the ends before the means, with all that that implies.

It is, for example, the way the soldiers of the German Democratic Repulic justified their shooting civilians trying to leave East Germany. If they hadn't fired, someone else would have. And if no one would, the fugitives would have been blown up by the traps, mines, or spring guns.

For a more recent example of Zielethik I point you to the Guantanamo Bay.

To return to the argument at hand: The fact that someone else would have done it does not make it any less wrong.

A: If Google hadn't gone along with the PRC's policy, they would just have been blocked as well.

Almost every moral argument comes down to this: The Lesser of Two Evils. The fact that one course of action is immoral does not automatically make the opposite morally sound.

But in this case, the lesser evil is clearly the PRC blocking Google. Google is not a crucial service without which the Chinese people could not do, so Google has no moral obligation to ensure its accessibility to the Chinese "at all costs" (another favourite phrase of the Zielethik people).

There is more, but it's getting late, so I'll leave it at that for now.

P.S. I am well aware that this weblog is being hosted by Google. This puts me in a moral dilemma which I have not yet fully resolved. Suffice it to say that since Google has been up to its motto (see weblog title) prior to the Google News China Incident, I do not consider it sufficient to cause me to boycot Google altogether.


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