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Google "don't be evil"?

By Taotao Bujue ( chinadaily.com.cn)
Updated: 2010-03-23 13:56
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Google has closed its Chinese-language search engine Google.cn by redirecting visitors to its servers in Hong Kong. By doing that, the search engine giant may win applause in the Western world for its motto "don't be evil" as it claims it is not willing to censor search results on Google.cn.

By assuming the Internet is a place where information should flow without any restriction, Google has portrayed itself as an angel in cyberspace. However, what it said and did have shown that Google is an irresponsible company.

Nobody can deny the fact that the Internet has been doing a lot of good for people's lives, largely by changing the way people communicate with each other. However, it has also become a hotbed of vulgar and harmful information such as child pornography and terrorism, making sensible censorship a necessity.

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It's the duty of any government to introduce relevant regulations to prevent the spread of such vulgar and harmful information, though some governments may have a different understanding about how far the censorship should go. Equally, it should be the duty of any organization or individual to check before publishing any content.

On March 4, a blog on the Wall Street Journal slammed a Chinese newspaper for running a "vulgar" piece written by an Italian columnist with "plenty of xenophobic stereotypes, sexism, nonsense and foul language". At the end of the blog, the author suggested "maybe someone should read the column before it goes to print", indicating some efforts might have been made to prevent it from being published.

After some pressure, it seems the story written by the Italian columnist, which the Wall Street Journal blogger said had the "intent on offending almost everyone", has been deleted from the website.

It might be easier to keep a check on content produced by media organizations as it is traceable. But checking user-generated content, which has been growing in popularity on the Web, is a tough task that needs Internet companies' cooperation.

Underscoring Google's negligence of duty is its failure to stop the uploading of a 2006 video that showed the abuse of an autistic teenager in Italy. A Milan court earlier found three Google executives guilty of invasion of privacy in that case.

Google claimed the defendants didn't film it, didn't upload it, didn't review it and as a result should not be held responsible.

This could become a common excuse for Google in fighting back any accusation against it. Viacom is now suing Google-owned YouTube for alleged copyright infringements. The website is now being accused of allowing uploads of copyrighted clips. Court documents shown by Viacom revealed YouTube executives deliberately allowed pirated copyrighted videos on the site.

All these examples show that Google is not a "don't be evil" company, as it claims.

It seems the company believes providing a search engine in cyberspace is like building an expressway and it should not be responsible for whatever is happening on the road. This belief, or excuse, is helping Google to avoid taking responsibility in the fight against harmful information and copyright infringements. It can also be verified by Google's poaching media content it does not own, as Rupert Murdoch has accused.

Google might remain one of the greatest companies in the world in terms of innovation, but not in terms of its sense of responsibility.

Sometimes, doing nothing equals being evil.