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When in Rome act like a Roman

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Staff writer ▼ | January 17, 2010
Google's threat that it will close its business in China started the game in which both sides are losing, and that shows that its managers don't know what to do.
Google China
Google ChinaGoogle's threat that it will close its business in China started the game in which both sides are losing, and that shows that its managers don't know what to do.

At the first sight the situation looks very simple: China is evil and uses its spies to establish a censorship on the internet and Google is good because it wants freedom for all. However, that's just the tip of the iceberg, a very simplified view, created by Google, and it's wrong.

First, Google accept some rules of behaviour when it entered Chinese market. Of course, that was a pragmatic decision because all big companies like Yahoo! and Microsoft were already there, so that was a political decision more than a part of a business strategy. "Chinese market is huge and everyone's there, from the local manufacturer of toothpicks to IT giants, so we must be there too" - most probably those were the thoughts of Google's leadership.

Second, Google's managers obviously thought "Let get in there first and think about consequence later" and that was a big mistake. As any other foreign company, Google had to sign that it will obey Chinese laws. No matter what is written in those laws and regulations every foreign company must sign that. "When in Rome act like a Roman" is a good proverb that every one of us respect. If you are in my house act like I tell you. So, that's understandable.

But, "let's think about problems later" sometimes can be very dangerous business decision. That's because you never know what will come up and what your host will ask from you. As long as Chinese government was focused on its domestic people and domestic server Google acted like privacy issues are not its business. OK, a few e-mails here and there, a few addresses here and there, all that for the sake of business. In the end of the day, it's not very clever to wake a sleeping dragon, is it?

But the dragon extended his claws to servers in another countries and mighty Google found itself in a completely different position. In a position where it had to fight for privacy rights. The problem is that "Don't be evil" doesn't exist anymore. Google is evil. That's a company which gives you a plethora of free services but the absence of price costs you very much: Google is collection all data about you. There's no free lunch, you remember? Well, there are no free services either. It's like selling the soul to the devil.

Now, what we got? On American ground there stands the company which must obey foreign rules. Its servers were under attack in search for dissidents and mighty Google called even government to help. "If you don't let us do the job our way we will go", says Google. Google - China 1:0.

On Chinese ground there stands the most powerful country in the world that doesn't care about anything. "If you want to do business here respect our rules or you're free to go", those were the words of Chinese government. Google - China 1:1.

The bad thing here is that there's no winning moves. Google earns some 300 million dollars in China which a drop in the sea, but it simply must be present there or it loses a big market which will grow and grow. Again, it's not about business, it's about politics. If Google stays that will mean that it obeys Chinese rules which are not very popular in the world. If it goes it will bring a short-term loss and probably long-term huge loss. Google has no good way out.

Another bad thing here is that China has few options too. If the government let Google to leave China will be described as the country which fights against civil and privacy rights and other countries - and their companies - don't like that. If China set another set of rule just for Google it will show that one company is stronger than the mightier country on this planet. China has no good way out.

So, what is to be done? This situation is bad for both sides so it would be best to leave this story aside, let the journalists forget what's happened and in the meantime to negotiate behind the closed door. The most important question is why this fight started in the first place and how can the company which collects the data about every man and woman on this planet talk about privacy. Google broke his motto but it found a very good opponent.