Thursday, January 26, 2006

Justifiable Kowtowing ?

[It's been a while since I have posted anything new. What usually happens is that I start a story but never actually have the chance to finish it, what with the other few hundred things going on in my life. However, I didn't think I could put this particular story in the Drafts folder given my level of disappointment and curiosity.]

"Don't be evil" - a motto that Google claims forms the basis of their corporate policies and business practices. What compounds my disappointment is that I actually believed it until I read that Google has agreed to create new versions of its search and news-aggregation websites that will censor all results that the Chinese government deems to be objectionable. Here's what the head policy counsel at Google had to say, " will comply with local Chinese laws and regulations. In deciding how best to approach the Chinese --or any-- market, we must balance our commitments to satisfy the interest of users, expand access to information, and respond to local conditions."

Now, when I had read similar news stories about Microsoft engaging in similar reprehensible behavior, I was actually not that surprised. There were two reasons for that - (a) I believed that Google is still out there leading the charge against government censorship and intrusion, and (b) Microsoft, the company (I am not referring to Gates here), does not have a track record that attests to putting the benefits to the consumer above profits. I understand that - if they don't comply, they will lose millions, if not billions, by government regulation in the form of excessive regulation and non-compliance to drive out software piracy.

Google's stand seems to be that access to some information is better than no information at all. I am not sure how they expect that any reasonable person would stomach that. Isn't the logic simple ? In a country where the government already has control over most other media, the citizens would inevitably come to rely upon a service, such as Google, that can provide not only information but also a sense of connectedness to the rest of the world. If said service also kowtows to extremely unreasonable government demands, it is just a redundant source of government propaganda.

Let's try playing devil's advocate for a minute. Larry Page recently said that he has always wanted to change the world. I think he, along with co-founder Brin, has managed to make a significant difference in the dissemination of information. May be he actually believes that access to some information is better than no information. In that case, I will grant that he thinks a compromise is necessitated and that the company is still not violating their motto. However, just because you can't see the wrong doesn't make it right.

Strong words aside, I have an inkling of hope that Google will realize that sometimes taking a stand against an oppressive regime goes farther towards changing the world than pandering to their demands. I know other people share my feelings.

Google, Don't be evil.

Update: Here's an illustration of the censorship (a side by side comparison of and search results for the same query). If you want to try some queries yourself, change your browser language to Chinese so that your default google site becomes

Update 2: Google has finally spoken. They are not happy with the decision that they have had to make and they hope to be able to do away with the filtering one day. I appreciate the fact that Google felt it was important to provide a public explanation of their decision (unlike certain other companies that we know of). It indicates that they still believe they are responsible to the public at large, and not just a subset that holds Google's shares. I still don't agree with their decision but I am now willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

An iPod video after all ?

Looks like I might have to buy the drool-worthy iPod video after all. The main reason I was holding off is no longer officially a reason - video availability. Google just launched a video store as promised at CES 2006 [warning: flash intensive] and the cool things about it are that you can buy really cool shows such as CSI, I Love Lucy and an old time favorite, MacGyver, at about the same price point as the iTunes videos AND they now offer all of these videos pre-formatted for the iPod as well. Awesome !! I have to say I am much more impressed with Google's clean and simplified web-based interface. So I can now buy a video iPod and keep it stocked with lots of nice videos - both from iTunes and Google Video (which also has a collection of free videos like the ones catalogued here).

So that means I have to get rid of my 2.5 year old third generation 20GB iPod. Mike was interested in buying it off me but I told him I want to ask my sister first if she would like to take it off my hands. although I don't know why because she just got a brand spankin' new iPod Photo as a gift this past year ! Still, La Famiglia should always come first, no ?

Let's see what Steve has in store for all the mac geeks (including me, of course) tomorrow when he delivers the keynote at the Macworld Conference in San Francisco. Here's hoping that they have come up with a way to make an awesome product even ... er ... awesomer ?

[Update: Looks like Google's video store is being updated with more and more episodes as I type this post. Go Google !!]