What Was That Motto Again?

At Google, it’s apparently “Don’t be evil, unless the Chinese government asks you to“.

For last week’s launch of the Chinese-language edition of Google News, we had to decide whether sources that cannot be viewed in China should be included for Google News users inside the PRC. Naturally, we want to present as broad a range of news sources as possible. For every edition of Google News, in every language, we attempt to select news sources without regard to political viewpoint or ideology. For Internet users in China, we had to consider the fact that some sources are entirely blocked. Leaving aside the politics, that presents us with a serious user experience problem. Google News does not show news stories, but rather links to news stories. So links to stories published by blocked news sources would not work for users inside the PRC — if they clicked on a headline from a blocked source, they would get an error page. It is possible that there would be some small user value to just seeing the headlines. However, simply showing these headlines would likely result in Google News being blocked altogether in China.

One word: pathetic.

You’d be hard pressed to find someone who cares more about user experience than I do, but this is a disingenuous explanation for Google’s decision.

What they’re really saying here is, “We know that we’d be making a political statement by showing Chinese users the headlines of stories their government doesn’t want them to see. And that’s not something we’re willing to do.”

Hey, Google, if you’ve decided that playing along with state censorship is something you’re cool with, that’s your decision to make. But don’t hide it behind a cloak of “providing the best user experience”. Just say “we wanted to do business in China, and to do that you have to play by their immoral rules; so we’re playing” and leave it at that.

UPDATE: Tim Bray agrees.