Tuesday, January 31, 2006

In Google we trust(ed)?

This is a tentative post. I have been caught up in something important and haven't been able to update my blog. This piece is a compilation of two comments I made on this issue and will be rewritten properly as soon as I get time. They are haphazard and may be repetitive in parts and incoherent too. My apologies to those of you who regularly visited the blog checking for new posts. Updates should be regular henceforth.

In my book Google is not worthy of scorn being heaped on it. The same media which is criticising Google has no qualms when it compromises with the Chinese government to curry favour. I think more than the action itself, it is the company which did that has outraged people. Somehow Google itself had built this holier than thou halo about it which has now shattered. People are finding it hard to shed their image of Google and find it hard to digest their favourite benevolent geeky boys next door suddenly treading into a moral muddle.

Besides Google is particularly having it hard from both sides of the aisle. The conservatives are worked up because of perceived help to communism(How can anyone in his 'right' mind can call China communist is another issue) As Gawkar in his blogpost said the same conservatives who are crying hoarse about Google aiding commies have no qualms going gaga over Fox news without a trace of irony. Given Murdoch's deals with China which are more acomodative or in fact supportive of the Chinese regime, they have no right to take a high moral ground at all. From my discussions with Suyog it seems the Liberals are outraged because of another issue. They are linking this issue to the fact that our blue eyed boys would never have done anything like this were it not for the evil market forces prevailing on them ever since they have gone public with their IPO. They think somehow the shareholders are holding Page and Brin by the scruff and forcing them to deal with China.

In real world terms whether Google enters Chinese market or not is a non-issue given the fact that whether it entered or not would hardly have made any difference to freedom in China. It was not as if Chinese government was going to wake up one day and lament, 'Oh look! We have deprived our population of so much information through Google because of our repressive policies. Its time we change.' In a globalised economy it is impossible to be consistent and morally right about corporations dealings with countries which how shall we say are currently out of favour. If you really are that outraged by the lack of freedom in China choke their economy till they acquiesce. But that would bring down an economic slowdown everywhere. As a company expands this is bound to happen and earlier we get used to this the better.

Check this essay. It dwells on the topic of companies and moral responsibility beautifully and in an even handed manner. It deals with corporate philanthropical initiatives and tainted money, particularly about Harward University accepting grants from Exxon whose interests in South Africa were construed as abetting the aparthied regime. I think the same logic that the author explains applies to Google's case.

It is the same argument that the payton paper which Suchi pointed out during the Tsunami discussion on my blog. I believe his logic applies more to the Google/China controversy than apartheid which was pre-globalisation. Then there could have been a difference. Now whether google goes in or not is not going to change the Chinese regime's heart. Besides if you want to take a moral high ground about freedom then stop dealing economically with China altogether and be willing to bear the global economic downturn that may occur. After all that is the best way to twist Chinese govt. arm and submit them to accepting democracy.

Why was there no hue and cry when Google agreed to censor Nazi related sites in France and Germany? Also paedophilia is censored in many countries. If one takes a 'there should either be complete freedom or no freedom at all' sort of a moral stance then there should be no double standards and the same yardstick should be applied elsewhere. That is the problem with moral stances always. In a globalised economy you can never get away without being a hypocrite. There will always be one small component that will be tainted. Besides I agree with Brin when he says that little freedom is better than no freedom. And you are discounting the ingenuity of the Chinese citizens altogether. Do you think that they aren't smart enough to coin new terms in place of democracy and human rights and falun gong to talk about the same things secretly? Also Google is not starting blogger and gmail so there is no question of the govt. arm twisting it to extract personal info about a user who has accessed some unwanted data. Also Google is going to have a note whenever the results are censored. Currently google results are censored by the Chinese and the readers may not even realise that they are missing out on something because it is being censored. Whereas once they know that they are being censored at least there is a chance of outrage being kept simmering everytime this happens. Only thing where you can fault Google is that they are going agaisnt their moto of 'do no evil.' But as you yourself have said in your post on terrorism evil is a subjective term. Once even dealing with a communist regime would have been considered evil. But we have seen the benefits reaped by the ordinary Chinese because of this so called 'evil.' And besides a company evolves. It is foolish to expect google to have the same policies as it had when it was a small start-up. That is not hypocrisy, that is maturity and much needed change owing to its adaptation to economies of scale. There will be newer geeks who will form the next Google through a technological invention. Google has now moved in a different league and it has earned its place through fair means without breaking any laws.. Another thing is if and when China becomes a democracy what is Google going to get in return if it stays out. a big zero. Because Yahoo and MSN would have a significant market share by then. Why should Google a corporation lose out to competitors through no fault of its own. It is the responsibility of the govt. and not Google to define the interactions permitted with such regimes. So long as it is breaking no law I dont see a problem.

I am going to make a logically well-argued post. But feel free to point any holes in this one till then.


kya yaar tu bhi said...

chetan, in general, methinks it is better if desis stick to all issues desi & not get entangled with geopolitics. Who cares what Chetan Pehlu thinks of Google ? Is he employee of Google, American shareholder with 1000+ shares ( at present price that would make him a wealthy man ), what ? Just another desi - so better stick to wellknown desi terrain na ? I see desis taking on "heavy" issues like gaza patti - pray, in all honesty, what would a london settled nri know about gaza, other than whatever he/she reads in msm ? Since you don't have the added expertise of actually being there, why bother ? Take on something you actually know about - whether it be FDI in india, bidding on airports, India @Davos, "how the other half lives" ( ultimate elitism, as if other half is some germ or bacteria you will put under the microscope & examine at your leisure :) I'm not saying be totally parochial & feign ignorance - but at the same time, each of us has an expertise that is quite hard to come by. Your knowledge of bharat, indian epics, couple with eco+philo makes for quite a unique mix - why waste that with some tedious halfbaked analysis of google which i can get from hundred thousand business outlets in msm ?

secondly, sentences like "Besides I agree with Brin" are quite offputting. Brin is not your roomie, neither are you partaking chai-paani with Page. So whats with this fake bonhomie ?

finally, "I am going to make a logically well-argued post" is as aymgrand as "I will be a great economist" or "India needs guiding light - lets self sacrifice and be that light". Nobody sets out to be great...you just do your action ( in this case, writing this blog :) and junta'll make you hero or zero based on output. So much focus on output before action does not behoove a karmayogi like you, my child :))

don't mind, haan ?:)

Chetan said...

:) You made my day!

No comment of yours has ever failed to evoke a smile. Thank you for your advice. As Americans would say, "I appreciate it." And now allow me to play Aym Grand for a moment and post a long winding comment which can really speaking be shortened to just a few words.

Let's start from the end. "don't mind, haan ?:)" Mind? In fact I am quite flattered that you value reading my thoughts and care about them enough to give me sound advice. Have you read Jhumpa Lahiri? In her multi-layered story Interpreter of Maladies, a guide gets the wrong message that his married NRI passenger going through a mid-life crisis is infatuated with him and he starts dreaming of a future together. In reality she looks to him merely as a confidant and someone with whom she can share her guilt. Much like what ladies do in long rail journeys in India. And when the NRI-wife realises his misconception she doesn't utter a word, simply walks away expressionless and begins playing with her kids. Then comes the killer line from Lahiri... "She wasn't angry. She felt nothing. Even to get angry on someone, the person should be worth your anger." Read a synopsis of the story here and here. I recounted all this is because for one I love that story and secondly to state that I don't mind your criticism/suggestions. This is because I am flattered that you think I am worth your anger, which is quite a compliment given how much I like your perspectives.

I get your point about poking nose in areas one really doesn't have a grasp of. But my take on the issue is that when some idea/perspective/or a fact forces me to take a fresh look at my gamut of my understanding I get all excited and write about it. For instance, why I said that I would write a well argued post later on was because the post I want to write is not about Google at all. The post is about an eco-philo issue of the purpose of business and whether it is fair to expect a business to be a guardian of public morality. Please read the link I have provided to the Payton paper. It was the arguments in it which made me relook my assumptions regarding Google or for that matter any company and tainted money. Besides this issue is bound to come up in India and had actually come up in comments section of Indian Express on a story about Infosys' forays into China and whether Infosys should do business with a country like China which may be an enemy of India. It was not my intention to pass judgment on Google or its stance through my blog. In the 'logically well-argued post' I intend to link Google's example to a larger idea. To explore issues from perspectives or pehlu which may not be obvious at first glance was the idea behind this blog. Sometimes the perspectives I explore will be about issues not directly pertaining to India but that does not dampen my urge to bounce off the ideas on my readers. I am young and a terribly confused person. I plan to use my blog and especially others' comments to refine my thinking through discussion. I am no Ravikiran who leads an examined life. I want to utilise this blog to examine my life. . Also I am a generalist and the only way in which I don't let my general knowledge be too 'general' is by writing about issues I don't know much about, because then it forces me to read more on the topic of exploration and when anons or other commenters find holes in what I write I can further clarify my thinking.

Thanks once again for your comment and feel free to crticise and advise anytime you feel like. And I am still awaiting that mail you promised to send me.

Krishna said...

I have also often wondered on the possible presumptuousness of discussing on these kind of issues. Either discussing these is issues is presumptious or it is not. I think it is not determined by boundaries nationality. If you accept that one needs to discuss issues in general, then we can discuss anything. Further, as Chetan says, these things are relevant in the Indian context too. Other aspect is one's qualifications in commenting on an issue. This is a very crucial thing actually. In these days of internet and blogs, it is true that everybody is a specialist and everybody is a critic. The demarcation is increasingly blurred. This is a good and bad.

kya yaar tu bhi said...

first of all, i must apologize for dodging that email. furthermore, i shall have to continue to dodge it :)
dekho bhai, i am no celeb, but i do get around, if you know what i mean....this avatar is good cover for saying what i really think and not getting caught with pants down. if i send that email, lots of lafda...i guess i will reach a stage when i can safely send that email or even set up a public website with phone, home address, social security :) hope u understand. but i still think i will send it someday :))

Regarding your blog, tumhari blog hai, kuch bhi likho, what goes of my father ? I am just expressing preference as audience...doesn't mean usko itna attention do. Personally, I would like Chetan to write about all things Indian, just like I would like to see Sun rise from East. Ab mamla Sun ka hai, mere paas uske upar koi control nahi. If it rises from Southwest also I will accept it.

sir jee, i watch ndtv. star news. i don't watch msnbc, cnn etc. i hate excessive professionalism. ndtv walas are sufficiently amateurish and at the same time tell me about bharat in a very laymanish pedestrian way, which i like. if i watch cnn, that stupid anderson cooper will invite some erudite gentlemen and talk pseudo philo...don't want to watch that. aap mujhe sirf news batao, views nahin. main views khud hi soch sakta hoon. so that's where i come from. i don't care much for NRIs, especially beyond 1st generation. so this jhumpa can go jump in a lake, as far as i am concerned.
"bharat hamara desh hai. ham sab bharat vaasi, bhai bewhen hain. hamay apna desh, pranon say bhi pyara hai. ham iske, sarvoch adhikari banne ka, prayatn sadha karte rahenge....etc. " mujhe kaafi achchi lagti hai. bharat is fun place. lets talk about it. ye google se kya lena dena. that was my point. aapko google ke baare main likhna hai, feel free.

Chetan said...

:)) See that is the difference between a fresh off the boat and the dyed in the wool NRIs. I am still surviving on student budget. So no NDTV/IBN for me. Neither can I afford to spend $60 on streaming cricket. So that limits my desi perspective. But hum aapki maang to matte nazar rakhte hue thodasa hi sahi parivartan jaroor layenge. Got to rush. Have an important interview. If this works out then probably will soon be sharing NDTV ke kisse. With your aashirwaad on us first gen. NRIs hopefully this will work out!

?! said...

One writes on issues beyond one's control for several reasons. ( "This is my letter to the world/that never wrote to me", eg.)

As a means of just ranting. I do that sometimes.

As a reaction to something someone wrote, because one feels a certain issue is relevant to a pet theory. (eg:- how certain ppl can link any issue at all to cartel vs cartesian debate).(And why these theories are important pliss not to ask. Refer discussions in any train, long and bitter, over geopolitical issues. Indian mindset, mebbe).

Means of displaying intelligence and all, in hope of snagging rich_lonely_housewife_on_cam.Gent who took money for broadband connection told me I am not getting broads due to not sounding intellectual enough. So we are also intending to sound intellectual, and hanging around C and other ppl's blogs in hopes of picking up tips.

Sheer pleasure of writing.

All of which may or may not be C's reasons.

Have long rant about how companies intrinsically cannot and rather should not bother about social agenda points as far as legal. And why control ( avoiding the dirty R word) is therefore necessary to ensure adherence.

But will wait till this gets sufficient publicity, someone writes a nice witty riposte which we can cut n paste.

C; Not rich either ? Siggghhhh.

Another dream bites the dust.

Suyog said...

Fortunately I have time in office today to respond hehehe :) - I read this one 2 days ago, but I am yet to comment. Must say interesting set of comments up there - will rush to office and comment :)



Suyog said...

back again.

I think the biggest thing about Google is that it has always projected itself as the "righteous" company in the world - and they proclaim that they need not do evil to make money. At other times on their own webpages, they also claim (or claimed) that they believe in "Democracy of the web" and "none of the results were censored".

The thing is, Yahoo and MS never made that claim - so their censoring results and all that is not really a big deal; everyone knows they are out to make money. The probelm with google was their own hypocritic philosophies which they had to eat because they had to enter China. Why should a a company believe in "democracy of the web" when it wants to limit the information to certain people in China? isn that hypocritical from company's ethics?

Thats the reason why many are pissed over google - google has made a business decision no doubts, but their argument that less freedom is better than no freedom falls flat on logic that some information is better than no information. Eg: A chinese student searching for "Dalai Lama" for his/her school project may be shown those links which are extremly critical to him, and present a completely different view, if the same chinese student had searched for him outside China: So in this respect, Google's evil doing is worse than not being there at all.

The problem with google as I said when we met last time is not that they made a business decision, but its a decision which kinda shows the hypocritic side of this company that still insists that they are the righteous company in the world. If they stopped doing that, perhaps ppl wouldnt be really angry at all.


As I said

?! said...

Suyog : The "democracy on web " thing itself is market positioning given majority of ppl on the Net from yore are liberalist.

I mean, you would sneer (without ranting) at "naya behtar Rin", why did you at all accept Google's holier than MSN claim ? Advertising it was ,and effective too.

There aint anything called a free lunch, and neither is there some company established for promoting freedom or democracy or what have you.

This reliance on knights on white chargers is the biggest stumbling block to realising the need for keeping commercial and social interests separate. We keep hoping that the next big company will turn out to be a nice guy who will finish first.

Hiren Shah said...

IT seems google is facing a googly which is a leg spinner bowling an off break with leg spinning action. Only goes to show that people act according to their vested interests-all depends on which side your bread is buttered.

Chetan said...

Krishna I think you learnt the hard way about how someone's tentative knowledge on a subject can cause him to comment and assess a topic wrongly in your discussion with Satya on Tendulkar playing for the records Vs. Team controversy. But then poking ones nose in issues one does not understand is a huge temptation and speaking for myself I am not sure I would be able to curb it in future. So you might still get to see comments out of the typical 'desi' fare on my blog.

?! a.k.a. Dubious C; Not rich either ? Siggghhhh. So for all you know I too am yet to successfully display my intelligence and all, and snag that rich_lonely_housewife_on_cam. In which case my blog may not be the right place to hang around for tips... But rest assured as soon as I snag one you will be the first to know about the means as I disturb your chatter in the comment section of your blog.

Chetan said...

Suyog: I think ?! has given you the cynical answer which I wanted to give. But let me shed my cynical attitude for a moment and assume that Google did indeed think that they were righteous and believed in their claim and are going against it today. So what?

Google is a tech firm which became a hit with an amazing piece of technology. It is easy to assume that they still operate under the same conditions in which they operated earlier as a start up when the said philosophy may have been framed. Today they operate in an entirely different market than before. Then their goals may have been different when they began and now given the market they operate in, priorities need to be aligned differently as they have grown. It is asking too much for someone to see so far out into the future and then frame a philosophy that can withstand all the unpredictable situations a company may face. Besides Google isn't the only firm which has done this. There are many parallels in corporate history. If I remember right IBM and HP had policies which favoured employment for life as part of their corporate philosophy. Yet they were forced to change and lay off workers when the time came. It would have led to the company itself collapsing had they insisted on sticking to their philosophy under those conditions. So I don't think it should be called hypocrisy. Today if Google enters or does not enter China makes no difference to the status quo regarding censorship in China. But once the China become a democracy, what would Google do then? It cant never make up for the lost business to MSN and Yahoo who may command a significant brand loyalty. Ultimately who will lose? Yahoo and MSN flush with money may be able to hire better talent that Google then and may come up with better products than Google. It will be you me and other Google customers who stand to lose if Google focuses on something else other than business of building the best search engine. Lets leave the democracy promotion to the world governments. I really dont think businesses should dabble in those issues.

And regarding your point about Chinese student getting skewed info about Dalai Lama, I think Google's entry will actually solve that issue. I have already mentioned this in the post itself.
Also Google is going to have a note whenever the results are censored. Currently google results are censored by the Chinese and the readers may not even realise that they are missing out on something because it is being censored. Whereas once they know that they are being censored at least there is a chance of outrage being kept simmering everytime this happens. Currently neither MSN or Yahoo or the Chinese censored Google.com tells the user that the results are censored. So Google letting them know that they are getting censored results is actually a step in the forward direction. Don't you think? So little information is indeed better than no information.

Hiren Shah: Perfectly said. Except I don't know whether you said it with a cynical frame of mind or a neutral frame of mind. I happen to believe that at least where running a business is concerned it is better to run it with a vested self-interest. It ensure that you have enough incentive to run it efficiently and thus help the user with the best experience.

Krishna said...

Chetan, That particular thought did not occur to me before. Now that you mentioned it, I realize that much of Satya's criticism had to with a simple lack of knowledge (and the resultant prejudice). So I definitely think that before taking a stand on any issue, one should learn the relevant details.

On the other hand, the great thing with blogs is that you can say anything, but then you will get to hear a great many shades of opinions on that issue. So if you are honest you will learn something, and modify your opinion. For instance, Satya actually gained much new information. This can be a very useful learning experience. To sum up, expressing your opinions on a blog is not so much a definite expression of your views as an invitation to a discussion. Of course, there are many issues where you have enough knowledge to form an opinion, in which case you just express that opinion. But restricting your posts to only such issues is not necessary, and probably not even good.

Chetan said...

Krishna: Agree with you there completely. But then what you say applies only under the assumption that the audience of your blog is knowledgable enough on those issues. The problem comes when one takes up an exotic issue. What if one writes a post on an issue about which the readers of the blog aren't well-versed. Then you end up prejudicing your readers as well as being smug that you know the issue enough that no one could poke holes in your arguments. Having said that I still agree with you that restricting only to such posts is silly as who decides what is the cut-off for knowledge about any issue that decides whether or not one is knowledgable enough to write about it.

Slightly off-topic, or may be not. I came across this wonderful quote on Google today. Many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices. by William James. I thought that was interesting and wondered how many times I am guilty of that.

neha said...

Why is it that when people don't know how to respond - they pick on your identity? Haan bhai - Apart from a two hour stop overin Dubai - I've never spent time in Middle East. But does that mean I shouldn't read about it? Or not "feel" for an issue?? Or worse still - not have an opinion?

Of course a person who lacks experience would lack the depth of perception - but as long as mein apna opinion kisi ke sarr pe na thokun - kisi ka kya jaata hai?

Kya Yaar Tu Bhi: What do you know about a city in India that you've never visited, a village you haven't heard about, a school you haven't attended, a person you haven't met, a time you haven't lived in? There are too many Indias in India - and each one of us is an NRI.

Suyog said...

I dont have a problem with google entering china, I have a problem with their ideology of "do no evil". If they stop publicizing that as their greatest virtue, I wouldnt complain or care less what they do :) - hehe. Its time google dropped such phony philosophies about work and be a "real" company.


Ashutosh said...

On a quick note, I think you have struck the nail on its head by saying that in a globalized economy, you cannot escape being a hypocrite. Not the corporations and not the politicians. Some are just better, some are worse, and some are more insidious than the rest at doing that. Nice blog by the way!
I think all corporations do such things; Google is in the spotlight only because it is doing so well and is so visible.

Sudip said...

Well, reading this blog reminds me of a famous line from one of PuLa's renditions of 'Punekar, Mumbaikar aani Nagpurkar' :

"Tumhala jar punekar vhaycha asel na, tar kuthlya hi goshti var tumhi mat mandla pahije. Americachya aarthik ghadamodi ya vishayavar, tumhi jari hi Pune mahanagar paliket undir marnyachya vibhagat aslat, tari, dya thokun! Americachya aarthik ghadamodi! Tarach tumhi assal punekar mhanval.."

Hehe... Maybe its not completely in context here, but it did remind me of that line :)