The Unknown Promise of Internet Freedom

Ve1195c_thumb3Peter Singer on Google vs. China, in Project Syndicate:

Perhaps because Google has been all about making information more widely available, its collaboration with China’s official Internet censors has been seen as a deep betrayal. The hope of Internet anarchists was that repressive governments would have only two options: accept the Internet with its limitless possibilities of spreading information, or restrict Internet access to the ruling elite and turn your back on the twenty-first century, as North Korea has done.

Reality is more complex. The Chinese government was never going to cave in to Google’s demand that it abandon Internet censorship. The authorities will no doubt find ways of replacing the services that Google provided – at some cost, and maybe with some loss of efficiency, but the Internet will remain fettered in China.

Nevertheless, the more important point is that Google is no longer lending its imprimatur to political censorship. Predictably, some accuse Google of seeking to impose its own values on a foreign culture. Nonsense. Google is entitled to choose how and with whom it does business. One could just as easily assert that during the period in which Google filtered its results in China, China was imposing its values on Google.

Google’s withdrawal is a decision in accordance with its own values. In my view, those values are more defensible than the values that lead to political censorship – and who knows how many Chinese would endorse the value of open access to information, too, if they had the chance?

[H/t: Stefany Golberg]