China vs. Google: clash of the titans

So Google has gone to war with China, in a manner of speaking.

Basically it's like this: the Chinese government likes censorship a lot. Perhaps more than they should. Regardless, Google isn't so big on censorship. If you search "Tiananmen Square," you should get pictures of the student protest, whether you're in Geneseo or Beijing. This duel of ideals has been simmering under the surface for a while.

On March 21, Google shut down its Chinese servers and redirected all searches from China to their Hong Kong servers, which are outside the "Great Firewall of China," giving Chinese Internet users unfettered access to all the political protests and porn they could possibly want to see.

But the implications are incredible! Politically, Google has established itself as a sophisticated international actor, capable of defying governments without much worry. Think about this: Google is a business. It's a business that's so vital to the modern world that it can literally take on a government's policies and laws and come out on top. Google beat China.

In the process, it also established some American foreign policy, which is pretty frightening. Google co-founder Sergey Brin remarked that, services and information being the chief American exports, China was presenting a barrier to trade with its censorship policies. Basically, in calling out China, Google relied on the backing of the United States government. And because our government didn't say or really do anything, they implicitly got that backing.

Google deserves it, too. As more and more essential institutions are ported online, Google increasingly becomes the first line of defense against hackers. Regardless of how silly that actually sounds ("hacker" is just such an inherently geeky word), consider how much people fear identity theft. And then consider how easy it would be for someone to get your banking, medical, communications and personal information with a couple clicks of the mouse. Thank goodness Google has safeguards in place, no?

In fact, the whole rift between Google and China is because of these safeguards. In January, Google intercepted a cyber attack meant to gather information about Chinese human rights activists. Presumably, the attack was launched at the behest of the Chinese government.

So what does it all mean? Why should anyone care about the fight between Google and China?

Because, really, it's more of a proxy fight. America and China have long disagreed over human rights issues, privacy and the freedom of information. Now, an American company is stepping up to defend those rights, with the implicit backing of the American government. It's rather like when you asked a friend to ask the pretty girl if she liked you, only the go-between here is a multi-billion dollar company, the pretty girl is the most populous nation on the planet and you are the strongest military power around. If the pretty girl doesn't like you, there might be problems.

But, in the meantime, it's fun to watch the politics of international relations change before your eyes. If you want more information, Google it.

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