Google in China

If you want to know the story, this book-length article that comes out on Sunday is the place to start. Along with offering a minute-by-minute description of Google’s dealing with China, its glimpse into the world of Chinese censorship lends new meaning to the phrase, “Doing business in China is different than in other countries.”

The penalty for noncompliance with censorship regulations can be serious. An American public-relations consultant who recently worked for a major domestic Chinese portal recalled an afternoon when Chinese police officers burst into the company’s offices, dragged the C.E.O. into a conference room and berated him for failing to block illicit content. “He was pale with fear afterward,” she said. “You have to understand, these people are terrified, just terrified. They’re seriously worried about slipping up and going to jail. They think about it every day they go into the office.”

As a result, Internet executives in China most likely censor far more material than they need to. The Chinese system relies on a classic psychological truth: self-censorship is always far more comprehensive than formal censorship. By having each private company assume responsibility for its corner of the Internet, the government effectively outsources the otherwise unmanageable task of monitoring the billions of e-mail messages, news stories and chat postings that circulate every day in China. The government’s preferred method seems to be to leave the companies guessing, then to call up occasionally with angry demands that a Web page be taken down in 24 hours. “It’s the panopticon,” says James Mulvenon, a China specialist who is the head of a Washington policy group called the Center for Intelligence Research and Analysis. “There’s a randomness to their enforcement, and that creates a sense that they’re looking at everything.”

Perhaps the most interesting part of the article is a lengthy interview with Michael Anti, who ranks the US Interent companies on a scale of ethics, with Google toward the top (since no one goes to Jail as a result of their China policies) and Yahoo at the bottom.

Read the whole thing, but be forewarned, it will take an hour or two to absorb it all.

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