Monday, January 30, 2006

Google, jokes and China

Declan reports that Google has been sufficiently embarrassed at the negative publicity they have received over censorship in China to lift the blocks on jokes.

Meanwhile on the same theme, John reminds us that when it comes to a choice between making money and behaving ethically, commerce will always opt for the money. Businesses are amoral. They exist for one reason and one reason only - to make money for their shareholders. When ethical practices support that objective they will be pursued. When they don't they will be avoided.

"Google's capitulation to the Chinese regime prompts some sobering thoughts. One is that while one may occasionally be justified in trusting an individual, one can never, ever place the same kind of trust in a company. That's why all the current concern about 'corporate social responsibility' is ultimately just eyewash. In the end, if there is a conflict between doing what is ethically right and what is commercially important, shareholder-driven enterprises will always choose the latter...

In the longer term, though, the commercial logic that led Google to capitulate may turn out to be counterproductive. The reason is that - in contrast to companies like, say, Halliburton - Google's ultimate fate depends on trust. Its corporate mission - to 'organise the world's information' - means that it aspires to become the custodian of immense quantities of private data...

Imagine standing up at a CBI conference and declaring that one is not going to do business in China until it makes serious moves towards becoming an open society! By joining the Gadarene rush into the Chinese market, Google may have gained short-term advantage. But it has also forfeited its right to our trust. "

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