Google’s corporate motto “Don’t be evil” has come under severe attack with the company’s decision to voluntarily censor the Chinese version of the search engine so that it meets the Chinese government’s demands and Google is able to locate business operations within China itself. Google plans to only make four of its main offering available in China – Web, image and local search as well as Google News. With China being the second biggest Internet market worldwide, the battle for market share is critical, and Google’s rivals, such as Yahoo! and MSN, already follow some self-censorship rules imposed by the Chinese government.
It is ironic that on the other hand, Google is the only search engine that has so far refused to hand over search data to the U.S. Department of Justice, which has placed subpoenas on this data to collect evidence supporting its case for the introduction of anti-porn legislation which was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court. Google’s reason for not complying with the subpoena was that the company believed that this “demand for information overreaches”.
Googles competitors Yahoo!, MSN and AOL, which all were served similar subpoenas, have already complied with the request and handed over search data. While the search data cannot be used to identify individual search engine users, the Department of Justices requests raises questions about the responsibility of search engine companies to protect their users’ privacy – and it raises the question why Google chose to comply with the demands of China, but not those of the United States Department of Justice.