Cyber Attack Spurs Google to a Human Rights Stand

January 14, 2010

On Jan. 12, 2010, Google changed its relationship with China.  China is a massive market so it is very attractive to businesses.  There are more Internet users in China that there are people in the U.S.  So it follows that Google has been a part of the Chinese Internet market.  However, the Chinese government does have wide ranging control over businesses, including foreign businesses, that operate in China.  Google in China is not the same as Google in the rest of the world.  The Chinese language version of Google ( was censored as per requirements of the Chinese government.  This practice dates back to 2006.  The censorship restrictions included what terms people could search and the web sites they could access.  The focus of the censorship involves issues related to governmental policies and challenges to them.  Many news and human rights sites were blocked along with information on the Tiananmen Square massacre (

So Google decide nearly four years later to stop censoring with a post to the Internet.  Here is part of that post:

“We launched in January 2006 in the belief that the benefits of increased access to information for people in China and a more open Internet outweighed our discomfort in agreeing to censor some results. At the time we made clear that “we will carefully monitor conditions in China, including new laws and other restrictions on our services. If we determine that we are unable to achieve the objectives outlined we will not hesitate to reconsider our approach to China.”

These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered–combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web–have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China. We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down, and potentially our offices in China.”

As the part of the message notes, the change was due in large part to a cyber attack on Google traced to China.  The focus of the attack was the Gmail (Google e-mail accounts) of Chinese human rights activists.  Some 20 other companies experienced similar attacks designed to access information about human rights activists.  The groups Human Rights Watch congratulated Google for finally ending censorship nd taking a stand in China saying, “Google’s resolve to avoid complicity with such flagrant violations of freedom of expression and association deserves praise.”

Clearly this is not the end of the story.  There will be reactions from the Chinese government to these actions.  Google may well leave the Chinese market and could be dismantled. In addition to attempts to gain information about human rights activists, the cyber attack also resulted in the theft of proprietary information from Google.  It appears the cyber attack was state-sponsored and that was finally enough for Google to take a stand in China.

Questions to Consider

  1.  Does the tail of Google in China support the need for corporations to develop foreign policies (guidelines for how they will relate to foreign governments)?
  2. Would you argue this case is more about business or more about human rights?
  3. How might this incident help Google’s reputation?
  4. How could Google justify censorship in China for so long?
  5. What ethical implications do you find in this case?
  6. How does this case serve as an example of public diplomacy?
  7. What, if anything, has Google done previously to help promote human rights?

What Does it Mean when the Lights are Yellow and Red?

October 20, 2009

The Empire State Building has different color lights that can be lit to illuminate events.  For instance, the lights shine red, white, and blue around July 4th for the US holiday.  If you know the color system, you can tell about when a scene from a movie or television was shot when it shows the Empire State Building.  The building is not opposed to going international.  The lights have gone red, white, and green for Italian flag on Columbus Day and white, green, and orange for India Day.  Other countries honored in the past include Canada, Australia, and Ireland.

Protestors appeared In late September 2009 when the lights went red and yellow.  Bonus point if you know right now what those lights symbolized.  Not the spoiler:  it was the 60th anniversary of China.  Chinese Consul General Peng Keyu was the for the ceremony and noted he was “honored and delighted.”  He was joined by about 20 protestors who were not delighted.  They were protesting China’s occupation and oppression of Tibet.  They chanted “No to China’s empire, free Tibet now.”

Online, blogger/journalists questioned honoring a country that represses freedom of the press and restricts Internet access.  Lest we forget Google operates with filters in China at the behest of the Chinese government.  Even some New York politicians spoke out against the lights.  “Democratic Congressman Anthony Weiner of New York said the lights should not be used to pay tribute to what he called “a nation with a shameful history on human rights.”

Fox news noted in a story:

“Tourists were squirming as the city’s 102-story landmark — which gained a special significance for New Yorker’s after 9/11, when it again became Manhattan’s tallest building — was being converted into a shining red beacon for Chinese communism.”,2933,557823,00.html

The criticisms echoed concerns of the Olympics taking place in Beijing in the summer of 2008.  Remember how French protestors put out the torch on its relay through France.  The issues arise not just because of China’s policies but because of China’s rising prominence in the world.  China is economic and military super power that is difficult to ignore.  On the plus side, in countries like France and the US, people are free to express their concerns over China celebrations and remind people about the human rights issues.  The world political stage has many players and country’s leadership must be ready for mixed reactions.

Questions to Consider

  1.  If you worked for the management of the Empire State Building, how would you publically justify the lights for China?
  2. How did the lighting serve to help the Free Tibet groups?
  3. As a publicity event, how would you evaluate the success of the event for the Chinese government?
  4. Is it fair to take the lights for China as an endorsement of human rights violations?  Why or why not?
  5. How does the event illustrate the marketplace of ideas?
  6. How does the event illustrate globalization?

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