Posts tagged ‘censorship’

Google vs. China: Running Away from 660 Million Eyeballs?

Wait, let me get this straight. Google, the $185 billion behemoth that wants to take over the world is seriously considering turning its back on a rapidly growing cluster of 660 million eyeballs (330 million Chinese internet users according to BusinessWeek)? After hitting their head on an obscenely high market share in the U.S. (67% search share based on Nielsen data) and looking for new geographies to expand, I’m supposed to believe Google will walk away from the third largest economy on this planet (see China: Trade of the Century)? The explanation given for Google’s capitulation is discontent related to unknown hackers and censorship concerns. If that’s not enough, this alleged saint-like posturing comes after Google sold its censorship soul for years, before seeing the free speech light. Although the company’s mission is to “do no evil,” Google had no qualms aggressively poaching Microsoft (MSFT) miracle maker, Kai-Fu Lee, to kick-start their Chinese presence. If free speech is truly at the root of the Google’s unease, then why wait four whole years and a hack-attack before laying down an ultimatum on the Chinese government?

I Smell a Rat

In a blog post written by Google’s Chief Legal Officer, David Drummond, the company explains how their iron curtain digital defense was bent but not broken:

“We have evidence to suggest that a primary goal of the attackers was accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. Based on our investigation to date we believe their attack did not achieve that objective. Only two Gmail accounts appear to have been accessed, and that activity was limited to account information (such as the date the account was created) and subject line, rather than the content of emails themselves.”

 

I’m no exterminator, but I smell a rat. All this feels a lot more like politics and business tactics then it does an altruistic display of free-speech martyrdom. The Chinese government and Google executives know what is at risk, as they both play a high stakes game of “chicken.”

Google goes onto say:

“As part of our investigation we have discovered that at least twenty other large companies from a wide range of businesses–including the Internet, finance, technology, media and chemical sectors–have been similarly targeted.”

 

I’m confused. These unknown hackers attacked 20 different companies and only unsuccessfully cracked two Gmail accounts. The evidence sounds pretty harmless on the surface, if this language is representative of reality. Maybe I’m wrong, and a foiled cyber-attack is reason enough to cease operations in a country inhabiting a potential 1.3 billion customers.  

Sure China represents a relatively small portion of Google’s revenues (estimated at less than $1 billion and a single digit percentage of revenues), but Google would be insane to walk away from this massive long-term growth market, even if Baidu (BIDU) is currently eating their lunch. Although Google has a smaller #2 position in China, it still has a respectable 35.6% search market share (according to BusinessWeek).

Not Just About Search – Cell Phones Too

Even if they claimed they were throwing in the white towel on their Chinese search business, I don’t think they really want to flush their newly minted cell phone prospects down the toilet. Even if 275 million or so cell phone users in the U.S. is fertile ground for Google to target their new Android-based phones, I’m guessing they have penciled out the gigantic mobile potential of the rapidly expanding 700 million+ Chinese mobile phone user market.

While I can’t take the scenario of Google ceasing China operations off the table, I consider the chance of Google shutting its doors in China significantly less than 50%. While the bold Google statement of feasibility review regarding their Chinese business existence has gained a lot of attention, I think calmer heads will eventually prevail and Google will resume their targeting of 660 million Chinese eyeballs. Who knows, the high stake game of “chicken” may even benefit their bottom-line as they win the hearts and minds of more future free-speech users.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own GOOG shares and China based exchange traded funds at the time of this article’s publishing, but did not have a direct position in MSFT and BIDU shares. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

January 14, 2010 at 12:31 am 2 comments

U.S. to China, “What’s Wrong With a Little Porn and Anarchy?”

The U.S. recently scheduled talks with the Chinese government to discuss the appropriateness of automated personal computer (PC) content filtering (including, pornography,  Falun Gong, and governmental protest content). Falun Gong is a meditatitve spiritual discipline frowned down upon by the Chinese government.

I can picture it now, U.S. officials calling up Chinese President Hu Jintao and saying, “Hey Hu, why not lighten up a bit on the freedom crackdowns  – what’s the big deal with a little pornography and anarchy?” The Chinese government feels that in the absence of structured laws, which would limit access to inappropriate content, the natives will become restless and ultimately disruptive. PC manufacturers would prefer not to reengineer PCs and increase the embedded costs to consumers by adding additional components. However, given the size of the Chinese PC market, the dominant foreign manufacturers are likely to cave to Chinese government demands, given the massive long-term potential of this Asian market. We have already seen Google (GOOG), Yahoo (YHOO), and Microsoft (MSFT) make concessions to the Chinese government in the algorithmic search arena.

Lord of the FliesThe thematic parallels presently occurring in China apply to William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (1954) as well. Lord of the Flies is a story about a group of stranded kids (surviving a plane crash) that battle for survival on a deserted island. Due to the lack of law, adult supervision and questionable tendencies, all hell eventually breaks loose. The Chinese government, managing a population of 1.3 billion people, fears a similarly hellacious outcome if an uncontrolled, lawless population consumes unfettered, unhealthy content. Given mistakes we’ve made abroad (e.g., Abu Ghraib, and Guantanomo), the Chinese and other countries are questioning the strength of our moral compass in judging or guiding other countries’ policies.

Although the U.S. government’s intentions are in the right place to protect the personal freedoms of people globally, we are not currently in the strongest moral position right now to cram our beliefs down other’s throats. Even the freest of societies such as our own limits certain actions – such as underage voting, underage drinking, and public nudity (O.K., I’m stretching a bit).

Regardless of your political views, one can appreciate the fear of anarchy in the hearts of the Chinese government. Practically speaking however, given the openness and rapid expansion of the global internet, the Chinese can only slow the expansion of individuals’ freedoms – recent events in the Middle East just provide additional evidence to this premise.

DISCLOSURE: At the time of publishing, in addition to owning certain exchange traded funds, Sidoxia Capital Management and some of its clients also owned GOOG, but  had no direct positions in YHOO, MSFT, or any other security referenced. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

June 23, 2009 at 5:30 am 1 comment


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