On Jan 14 the main frontpage story in The Telegraph ran like this: Google wakes up, sees evil in China. It narrated the events that concerned Google’s threat to leave China should the conditions continue to remain the same that prompted the search giant to issue the threat.
My mother, who turns 80 later this month and who often comes and stands by me watching what all I do on my laptop, was curious. She hears me often talking about how Google has become the heart and soul of many a people’s online world, and so she reasons that Google must be a huge dominating force.
As for China, those who live in the eastern part of India are well aware about China’s gigantic and galloping might. Why, only last November China raised so much hue and cry over Dalai Lama’s visit to Tawang Monastery that it seemed as if the place belonged to it!
No surprise then that my mother wondered what the outcome will be between the clash of the 2 titans, Google and China. To that my first reaction was that just as nothing eventually shattered the earth during the cold war between the US and the then USSR despite several severe posturing, similarly Google and China too will likely mend the common fence between them in their own ways, away from the media’s glare.
The reason is not far to seek. The stake for either is monumentally high to not seek a middle path. So if, we may assume, Google starts showing ‘some’ unfiltered search results, China may silently acquiesce pending deploying the other cards it holds close to the chest for future use as and when the times arise.
But wait, spare a thought: Is the matter that simple?
Bereft of jargons, it doesn’t look so. We will shortly munch that over but first a brief recap.
Setting foot in China 4 years back Google was aware of what it was up to in that country. In a Feb 16, 2006 testimony Google acknowledged that:
The requirements of doing business in China include self-censorship – something that runs counter to Google’s most basic values and commitments as a company. Despite that, we made a decision to launch a new product for China – Google.cn – that respects the content restrictions imposed by Chinese laws and regulations.
That and only up to that was okay for Google. But now the things have turned serious. Google alleges that in mid-December a highly sophisticated and targeted attack on their corporate infrastructure originated from China that resulted in the theft of intellectual property from Google.
Out of the 2 main issues it is confronting, Google already adheres to, albeit ‘unwillingly’, the filtering of search results, YouTube videos, etc. – those that are not to China’s likings. The main issue is therefore concerning the theft of intellectual property from Google. And this is the crux of the standoff.
Why is this serious? If Google fails to protect the intellectual property of its users, then it may turn out as catastrophic. Since the search giant – or should it rather be the largest online marketing company – possesses the most invaluable personal information of billions of users, therefore to have them stolen is something that can never ever be imagined even in the worst dreams.
Google is clever. It has roped in 20 other large companies – not named though – in the ambit of those it found ‘affected’. That translates to some onus on these other companies as well to make them feel sufficiently alarmed.
Meanwhile, the news that the US government is also protesting to China over the cyber attacks proves that Google has been able to take the matter to the government-to-government level.
China though continues to remain unfazed. Its Vice Foreign Minister says that Google Inc.’s complaints about cyber attacks and censorship in China should not be “over-interpreted” or linked to Beijing’s bilateral relations with the US.
So what will the likely outcome of this great fight be? We can think of some though much of it will be played behind the faceless closed doors.
It can be safely assumed that Google will place the highest premium on the safety of intellectual properties it holds. There can be no compromise on this, come what may.
Else, for any breach in the security of important confidential data, it will be like kissing the online world goodbye. Maybe forever.