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Littlefield Simulation Report - Case Studies in Ethics

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Case Studies in Ethics

at Duke Universi ty

dukeethics.org

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution - Noncommercial - No

Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.

org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/. You may reproduce this work for non-commercial use if you use

the entire document and attribute the source: The Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University.

Business Ethics

In early 2006, search-engine giant Google struck a deal with the People's

Republic of China and launched Google.cn, a version of its search

engine run by the company from within China. Launching Google.cn

required Google to operate as an official Internet Service Provider (ISP) in

China, a country whose Communist government requires all ISPs to selfcensor,

removing content that is considered illegal from search results.

From a financial perspective, China represented for Google a dynamic and

fast-growing, though increasingly competitive, market. Google's decision to

self-censor Google.cn attracted significant ethical criticism at the time. The

company's motto is "Don't Be Evil," and prior to entering China, Google

had successfully set itself apart from other technology giants, becoming a

company trusted by millions of users to protect and store their personal information.

The choice to accept self-censorship, and the discussion and debate

generated by this choice, forced Google to re-examine itself as a company and

forced the international community to reconsider the implications of censorship.

This case was prepared as the basis for class discussion rather than to

illustrate either the effective or ineffective handling of an administrative situation.

Prepared by Kristina Wilson, Yaneli Ramos, and Daniel Harvey under the

supervision of Professor Wayne Norman (edited by Professor Chris MacDonald)

"The Great Firewall"

GOOGLE IN CHINA

Case Studies in Ethics 2 dukeethics.org

"While removing search results is inconsistent with Google's mission, providing no information (or a heavily

degraded user experience that amounts to no information) is more inconsistent with our mission."

- Google senior policy counsel Andrew McLaughlin."1

Introduction

In early 2006, search-engine giant Google struck a deal with the People's Republic of China and launched Google.

cn, a version of its search engine run by the company from within China. Launching Google.cn required Google to

operate as an offi cial Internet Service Provider (ISP) in China, a country whose Communist government requires all

ISPs to self-censor, removing content that is considered illegal from search results. Such censored content ranges

from political subjects such as "democracy" and "Tibet," to religious subjects such as "Falun Gong" (a spiritual

movement banned by the government) and "the Dalai Lama," to social subjects like "pornography." By choosing

to launch Google.cn, Google seemed to be implying that its mission and values could be consistent with selfcensorship

in China.

From a fi nancial perspective, China represented for Google a dynamic and fast-growing, though increasingly

competitive, market. With over 105 million users online in early 2006, China's Internet market was the second

in size only to that of the United States, but it still represented only about 8% of the Chinese population. Though

Google's U.S.-based site, Google.com, had been available in China since the site's inception in 1999, service was

slow and unreliable due to extensive Chinese government censoring of international content. Google's major U.S.

competitors, Yahoo! and Microsoft MSN, had each entered the Chinese market as ISPs years earlier, agreeing to

self-censor. In addition, escalating competition from Chinese search engine Baidu.com was quickly eroding Google.

com's Chinese market share: between 2002 and 2007, Baidu.com's market share increased from a mere 3%2 to a

dominant 58%.3

Google's decision to self-censor Google.cn attracted signifi cant ethical criticism at the time. The company's motto

is "Don't Be Evil," and prior to entering China, Google had successfully set itself apart from other technology

giants, becoming a company trusted by millions of users to protect and store their personal information. However,

in early 2006, Google found itself in front of the Committee on International Relations of the U.S. House of

Representatives, defending its actions in China side by side with Microsoft, Yahoo!, and Cisco Systems. Google's

choice to accept self-censorship, and the discussion and debate generated by this choice, forced Google to reexamine

itself as a company and forced the international community to reconsider the implications

...

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