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Monday, 13 August 2018 11:54

Nothing wrong with Google looking to expand into China

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It is amusing in the extreme when Americans try to pretend that US companies have to adhere to this or that moral or ethical code. And that is precisely what is going on now, after Google was revealed to be planning a censored version of its search engine for the Chinese market.

When a business enters a foreign country in a bid to expand, it has to conform to the laws of that country. Of course, since many Americans believe in the myth of American exceptionalism, they parrot on and on about ethics and morality when it comes to doing business.

I laughed quite a bit when I read what can only be described as an indignant rant from the Washington Post's Josh Rogin who describes the Google plan as "Faustian" and one "that isn’t just morally wrong; it’s also terrible for business". Really? How many businesses of Google's size has Rogin run?

This is pretty rich coming from an employee of a company whose owner, Jeff Bezos, the Amazon supremo, has a US$600 million deal with the CIA, and has no compunction about supplying artificial intelligence to the military and law enforcement agencies.

Teresa Carlson, vice-president of the worldwide public sector of Amazon Web Services, was quoted recently as saying: “We are committed to our customer, and we are unwaveringly committed to the US Government and the governments we work with around the world." In that context, Rogin's protests ring hollow. Does he think it is moral and ethical for Bezos to deal with the CIA?

The Amazon statement came a month or so after Microsoft came under fire from its employees over its contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement following reports of the agency's separation of migrant children from their parents at the Mexico-US border.

So what is Rogin on about? This babe in the woods believes that Google should adhere to the motto it once floated: "Don't be evil". In which world does Rogin reside? He is a citizen of the same country where corruption of a magnitude never seen before brought the world financial system almost to its knees in 2008. And he is going on about morals and ethics?

But then I discovered that Rogin is not alone in his naive musings. Catherine Flick, a reader in Computing and Social Responsibility at De Montfort University, is also on a similar track.

Flick believes that the code of ethics of the Association of Computing Machinery — an organisation which has many Google employees as members — would clash with the work that many of these employees are involved in to bring the China project to fruition. Yeah, these employees are dying to follow that code.

It's worth noting that when Google — or any other American tech multinational — set up offices in India, there was no outcry. Knowing the country as I do, it is inconceivable that anyone, company or individual, can do anything with the bureaucracy without paying bribes.

The first bribe I paid in Bangalore was two rupees (now worth three Australian cents) back in 1974. This was paid to a policeman on the advice of a friend who had convinced me to go on a cycling trip with him. In the centre of Bangalore, an auto-rickshaw hit my bicycle and the cop on the beat decided it was my fault. My friend urged me, "give him something", and mollified the policeman after I had parted with the money.

Would paying bribes not conflict with the morals and ethics that Rogin was talking about? Or with this famous ACM code which with Flick was obsessed?

China is the only major market that has not been exploited by Google (and also Facebook). When they decide to try and get a foot in, they will have to conform to whatever the Chinese Government says. The money that is paid by Chinese consumers is the same colour as that used around the world – and to a business like Google, that is all that matters. The myth of being responsible only to its shareholders is the only thing that counts.

Anybody who thinks otherwise is wearing rose-coloured glasses. And needs to grow up fast.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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