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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Don't Be Evil - Unless It's Profitable

For those who may not be aware, Google’s company motto is “Don’t Be Evil.” As more than one commentator has pointed out, the sentiment is laudable, even if their conception of evil is not entirely clear.

Take a very specific example. A few months ago, after having heard a lot about it, I signed my Bridegroom Press website and my blog into Google's AdSense program. Unfortunately, while the blog was accepted, Bridegroom Press was rejected. It contained objectionable content, according to Google. I found this rather amusing.

You see, the Bridegroom Press site contains only two things: articles (such as the one you are reading now) and Catholic books and CDs. The only difference between the blog site and the Bridegroom Press site is the presence of the books and CDs. The articles are identical: the two sites mirror each other in article content.

I pondered over what Google might have found objectionable. Given the wrong frame of mind, someone might find the title of my Scripture study on the infancy narratives, The Flesh of God, to be on the verge of blasphemy. Certainly I have had at least one bookstore refuse to carry my book on John Paul II's Theology of the Body, Sex and the Sacred City. They said their clientele would not buy anything with the word “sex” in the title. Or perhaps the reviewer was a big proponent of parochial schools, and therefore took offense at Designed to Fail, Catholic Education in America. It's hard to know, really. All I know is my site is not worthy of AdSense, although my essays on Blogger apparently are.

In fact, the reason is certainly much easier to discover than I make out. No matter how much revenue Bridegroom Press might generate for Google, it won’t begin to approach the amount of revenue that Blogger generates. Thus, Google doesn’t bother to review any Blogger feed – the revenue stream is too large to risk offending the Blogger community.

But Bridegroom Press? That’s a different story. Articles on a stand-alone site that speak out against homosexuality and homosexual marriage, contraception, abortion and similar topics won’t generate enough money to justify Google’s risk. If they allow their ads to become associated with the site’s contents, if someone discovers it and objects loudly enough, Google might face media scorn.

This example is relevant precisely because Google has joined Yahoo and MSN in deciding to censor itself in order to enter the Chinese market.

Google America doesn’t much like those who fight against the expansion of homosexual rights and the killing of children in the womb. Google China will not only refuse to permit discussion of China’s infanticide policy, it will also refuse to allow Chinese computers access to anything that the murderers currently running China deem unfit for public discussion.

Google America fights the US government’s attempt to get a list of key words that would help fight child porn. Google China, “will base its censorship decisons on guidance provided by Chinese government officials.”

A few years ago, Pepsi’s slogan, "Come alive! You're in the Pepsi generation", was reportedly rendered into Chinese as “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the dead.” One wonders if “Don’t Be Evil” translates as “Follow the Money.”


John said...

Danny Sullivan has a well rounded article at:

Note that Yahoo and MSN are already censoring search results (without telling the users about it unlike Google).

Patrick said...

Money is the obvious key to the story. However, socialization is key number two. The more that the search engines slip in currently unguarded Western information, the hope for future profits and the opening of minds towards Western ideas that may increase future profits is not far away. However, at least Google lays their cards on the table. All of the other US companies that have exploited the communist-capitalist marriage rarely let the U.S. media know about it. You have got to at least give Google some merit on that fact.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Well, I would agree with both of the above posts if it weren't for my personal experience with Google.

How does one explain the disparate treatment of two sites with nearly identical content? The only difference in content was the sponsor - one was a major corporate revenue source, the other was not.

Google is attempting to mitigate the censorship issue by making people aware of the censored content, but would they even do that much if China complained? And the Chinese government is not exactly upset about having that message there.

After all, it is in the interest of the Chinese authorities to remind people of their power. Google's content statement can be seen as a reminder to the Chinese people that Big Brother is always watching. In that sense, it can be seen as perversely contributing to the oppression. It is not at all clear that Google's decision to advertise the censorship is superior to Yahoo/MSN's decision not to do so.

Patrick said...

Considering that due to their decision not to hand over search results to the US government it will probably cost them a lot of customers who saw it as a bad move, Google themselves expecting possibly as high as a 20% dropoff in users/corporate use, I am not sure when it is money driven or ideology/agenda driven. I believe they are taking things issue by issue and homosexual marriage is simply too hot of a topic in the US to stand against it at this stage of the game. They aren't big enough like MS or Disney to pick a single pro-homo agenda yet.