6. Google versus China What this case has to offer This case is an example of conflicting interests between Google’s operating philosophy and its for-profit objective, as well as a case where how business is done in a foreign country may cause a dilemma between what is legal and what is ethically acceptable. Google is committed to give users the information they are looking for, as stated by the company’s co- founder Larry Page, “The perfect search engine would understand exactly what you mean and give back exactly what you want.” Furthermore, one of the company’s principles is that "you can make money without doing evil". Nevertheless, these principles have to be compromised in order to do business in China, where the government requires internet engines to censor politically sensitive information, or to allow the government to censor it. Moreover, this case encourages discussion about how Internet businesses should operate in a country with a questionable record of protecting the online privacy and freedom of expression by its citizens. Teaching suggestions A good way to introduce this case is to ask whether acting legally is the same as acting ethically for a company doing business in a foreign country. I ask the students to discuss the various ethical dilemmas that Google confronted when it first started operating in China and later on when the company was a victim of a hacker attack allegedly traced back to China. Discussion of ethical issues 1. When it began operations in China in 2006, Google had agreed to have the search engine Google.cn censor information. Did Google have an ethical right to renege on its agreement in 2010 by directing its Chinese users to the uncensored search engine Google.com.hk? When Google took its search engine into China, it was criticized by human rights groups for allowing the censoring of search results. In response, Google argued that it was better for the Chinese to have a censored Google than no Google at all. The firm could play a useful role for the cause of free speech by participating in China's IT industry instead of refusing to comply and being denied admission to the mainland Chinese market. Four years later, Google threatened to leave the Chinese market completely after a series of hacker attacks were traced back to China. Although Google did not explicitly accuse the Chinese government of the breach, Google announced that it was no longer willing to continue censoring results on Google.cn, following a breach of Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. The company found that the hackers had breached two Gmail accounts but were only able to access 'from' and 'to' information and subject headers of emails in these accounts. The company's investigation into the attack showed that at least 34 other companies had been similarly targeted.
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