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Feb 9

Brady Forrest

Brady Forrest

An Open Letter to Google from China

Isaac Mao, a prominent Chinese blogger, VC and friend, has posted An Open Letter to Google Founders--- to save Google in China and save Internet in China.

One of the first paragraphs explains the situation as he sees it:

During the National Day holiday week in 2002, when was blocked in China for the first time, Chinese Google users made an online protest spontaneously. They appealed to free the purer search engine wave by wave. Its seemed its also the first time grassroots power was demonstrated in China on Internet. You can imagine how eager they are to have a complete Internet instead of a shrinked one. At last, people won, Google backed. However, after 4 years, we started to question whether we should continue to support Google. Many users here were disappointed when they found filtered many keywords. The compromise remarks by you in Davos made us more frustrated. Seems you are adopting self-censorship which hurts those loyal users a lot which also devalue your motto of "non-evil".
Google is ever regarded not only a leading Internet business, but a hope for many people around the world to open their thinking. Many bloggers in China still believes that in their everyday writings. We guess you were misled by incomplete information on how censorship is good to Chinese people. The fact is Google in the 130M-Internet-Users country is losing loyal users with loosing your principles. We understand its tough to anyone to make decisions. But it high time to change it back to the right track. Here we would like to propose 3 ideas to Google for its China strategy in a long term run, to survive, and live better:

The letter ends with the three ideas for Google in China:

  • Invest in the Chinese Internet economy via a VC fund
  • Assist in the development of anti-censorship tools
  • Promote the Adsense economy to benefit content publishers

China will plague US internet companies until they are able to freely serve content in an unrestricted manner. The market is to big to ignore, but the government will shut them off if they do not play by their rules. This situation applies to all of the big search companies: Microsoft, Google and Yahoo!
Isaac's letter suggests an interesting plan to Google. Invest in the internet economy while at the same writing or supporting software to free users to get uncensored information. I wonder how the Chinese government would handle that. They like foreign investment, but would they really tolerate it if it came with tools that route around the Great Fire Wall attached?
Isaac is a gutsy fellow. His email sig has a link to the EFF project Tor, an internet anonymizer. Isaac invests in companies that enable secure communication between social networks in China. I wonder if his plan would work. I think that investing in the Chinese internet economy would be very beneficial to Google and China; enough investment in that may make the Adsense economy a possibility and enable content publishers to make money. Anti-censorship software would be beneficial to all, but unless it is incredibly simple and easy to use it realistically would not affect the majority of Chinese internet users.

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David Hammond   [02.09.07 05:53 AM]

People in China can use as before with only U.S.-level censorship (almost negligible censorship, as U.S. residents normally get). is just an alternative option since Chinese ISPs block so often. I don't see anything wrong with providing users with choices. Maybe they could advertise the choices better.

Ken   [02.09.07 06:38 AM]

The average Chinese internet user probably don't care or don't know what he is talking about anyway. In China, Internet is for gaming, chatting, making friends and doing business.

Freedom of speech on the internet? Give them a break, they arn't have time for that. Here are 1.3M people just unleashed and stepping on each other to get to that promised land known as market capital.

Give Google a break too, they are for making money and making shareholders happy. Why should they risk their neck for the people (the large, large majority anyway) who do not really dare or care do anything about this?

Jonathan   [02.09.07 02:32 PM]

Ken, maybe because it would be the RIGHT THING TO DO?

"Why should they risk their neck for the people (the large, large majority anyway) who do not really dare or care do anything about this?"

David Scott Lewis   [02.10.07 12:32 PM]

First, to David Hammond. is almost never blocked in China. I'm not sure where you're getting this info, but I have a hard time remembering the last time it was blocked.

Also, there's a default language different, even when trying to access For example, without my VPN (which is in the States), I get Google in Simplified Chinese. With my VPN, I get Google in English. So there's a usability difference, I guess. The ".com" versus ".cn" issue isn't really the issue.

Ken, try 1.3 billion, NOT million. But I'm sure you meant that. Now, having said what I just did, I suspect you've had very limited experiences living in China. Freedom of speech is a huge issue, and Isaac Mao is one of the First Nation Chinese heroes helping make a lot of things that Westerners take for granted a reality for Internet users in China.

(BTW, I checked your blog and it does seem like you have at least some experience in China, but I didn't take the time to see if there were any indications that you've lived here. Tourist execs and the like really don't understand China at all. And when they have any so-called "understanding" it's almost always of BJ, SH, maybe SZ (and HK, of course). But they're just a tiny fraction of what China is all about.

Jean-Michel   [02.12.07 03:52 PM]

Maybe you saw it, but Kai-Fu Lee, CEO of Google China, explains here some elements about Google strategy in China. Especially, since the economy is quite unique in China, with no credit cards and little enforcement of intellectual property, there is not much room at the moment for monetization and the Adsense program:

Omar Cisneros   [02.13.07 07:07 AM]

I commented this months ago in my personal blog at:
(its in spanish).

I really dont like the way google filter the "searchs" in china.. in my opinion is like selling your soul to the devil.

Ken   [02.13.07 11:39 AM]

Jonathan: yes maybe. Google the saviour! :)

David: That's right 1.3B. I respect Isaac Mao for what he is doing (and the risk is he exposed, I assume he is not related to the other Mao).

I do live in China and don't deny that "freedom of speech" issue, which is very real. Do not get me wrong. I applaud the effort, someone has to start it somewhere, just like any changes.

What I wanted to imply, in a tongue-in-cheek manner (I hoped), is that the _average_ China people, not the few Issac, simply do not see it as a problem at this point. Yes they will admit it is there and joke even, but they do not see it as a problem.

Sorry to use your term but people that think like Issac is just a tiny fraction of what China is all about based on a hierarchy of needs

BTW, try searching for some restricted keywords and see if access is interrupted for a short moment. Maybe I'm imagining.

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