"Google said Tuesday it would shut down its operations in China unless the government there agreed to stop using its search engine for spying or to censor political information posted on it. About 80 million Chinese use Google" (AHN).The company has long been accused of facilitating suppression of information current and historical (e.g. the Tiananmen Square massacre) the government deems potentially threatening to its firm single-party grip on power.
It will be interesting to see what Yahoo and AltaVista do now. Yahoo even went so far, back in 2007, as to turn over internet search records of at least two Chinese political dissidents, who were jailed as a result.
Interestingly, this marks a 180 degree shift in policy for Google, which also in 2007, voted down an anti-censorship shareholder initiative very much like what the company has finally just chosen to do.
Ultimately, this may not compel China to change its repressive policies. However, it will likely inspire its competitors Yahoo and AltaVista to follow suit. This could in turn work to stigmatize the country from the rest of the developed world. It could also embolden its people to revolt once more in the name of freedom and democracy if, as a result of these corporate actions, it becomes impossible or very difficult for ordinary Chinese citizens to continue doing global business on the internet.
But Baidu, the Chinese seach engine, controls already 63% of the market. So perhaps little will change.
Still, this a refreshing and reassuring act of courageous leadership from a company that is clearly still trying to stay true to its founding motto: Don't be evil.