Emboldened by its move to shutter its Chinese search engine, a Google policy official argued at a Congressional panel on China that the government should help companies combat Internet censorship abroad because it stymies economic growth.
Alan Davidson, director of U.S. Public Policy for Google in America, offered this testimony to the commission March 24, just two days after rerouting Chinese searchers to Google.hk after failing to come to terms with the country over a hack on its Gmail users' accounts.
But if you want the finer points, including a call to limit government aid to countries that censor Websites, distilled without the puffery, just read the New York Times coverage here.
Shocking? No, not in the content. It's the audacity of the claim that lifted my eyebrows when I read it. Google went from trying to work with the Chinese government the last two months to resolve the widespread security breach to doing and end-run around it.
Two days later, Google is calling for the United States to challenge China and the 25 other countries where Internet censorship is practiced and, consequently, Google's Web services such as YouTube are summarily blocked.
People will praise Google for taking the moral high ground of refusing to cave (this time) to search censorship. In fact, Congress came out in support of Google today.
But make no mistake: a censored Internet is Google's worst nightmare and threatens its search and Web services dominance. Davidson just about said as much in his testimony when he argued:
"Barriers to the free flow of information online have significant and serious economic implications: they impose often one-sided restrictions on the services of U.S. and global Internet companies, while also impeding other businesses who depend on the Internet to reach their customers."
Google is particularly upset about the notion that China and other countries that practice censorship are shutting out U.S. companies from fair competition, as Davidson argued:
"But governments need to develop a full set of new trade rules to address new trade barriers. We encourage further efforts along these lines, by the U.S. government and other governments to redress favoritism shown by some governments for indigenous companies over U.S.-based corporations."
To Google, a country that censors what its users may access online is like putting a fence around a lush green field and not allowing enterprising farmers to tend the land. Restricted Web access also restricts digital advertising, which means less money for Google.
In arguing for the U.S. government to challenge censorship abroad, Google makes a case to grow its business with the backing of the moral majority in this country for which censorship is an abomination.
Congress, or at least those in attendance for this panel, seem to be on board. According to the Times, Senator Dorgan said:
"Information is not to be feared, and ideas are not enemies to be crushed," Senator Byron Dorgan said. "The truth is China too often wants a one-way relationship with the world."
Google can't lose. Unless, of course, China, Iran and others continue their gross censorship. That is why Google is calling on the U.S. for its support.
And that's the bottom line. But this is an old argument and an old issue with a new twist: Google is actively challenging China.
Will the U.S. government do anything to support Google, or will we just hear more grandiose talk from senators?