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January 27, 2007

Good, Evil and the Real World

The World Economic Forum from Davos was a great occasion for journalists to talk with Google's co-founders. Asked about Google's agreement to censor the Chinese version of its search engine, Sergey Brin said...
he was instinctively opposed to the deal because he was born in the Soviet Union. "Having felt that kind of oppression, I would never have wanted to compromise in that direction." His opinion changed, he said, when he talked with Chinese people about it. "They're really proud of what China has accomplished. They feel that as much information as can go into China, the better off it is."

In Google's defense, Larry and Sergey list some key differences between Google and... let's say Microsoft: "We have very open partnerships. We're very careful about being fair with revenue. We're a big supporter of open source."

It's interesting to decide what's more evil: being in conflict with your principles (search results should be unbiased) or making many of your users unhappy (Google is often down)? Google chose the utilitarianism: something is good if it brings happiness to the greatest number of people.


  1. It's also easy to find an excuse for censorship - "Better to tell part of the truth then tell no truth at all" doesn't really cur it for me though.

    Google made the deal that best works to their advantage. It has little to do with what's good for the people in China, or anywhere else.

    Just my opinion.


  2. If they really believe that "as much information as can go into China, the better off it is," then why don't they allow uncensored web access?

    Obviously that's total BS...China really believes that as much control as they can exert, the better of it is.

  3. I totally agree with Rob, and we all know that this is the true. The business is what really matters, not what is good or evil for the Chinese people. I like Google services, but... poor Larry and Sergey, who they what to convince with their discourse? What counts for them is the money in their pockets. If they refuse the contracts because their principles the investor will give them good bye. Them Sergey couldn't buy his expensive shoes (that he loves) and Larry couldn't buy the gifts for Lucy.

  4. okay, i think it's time somebody mentioned that it's not so much larry and sergey being evil, but rather investors being heartless. If enough investors realized that what they were asking for [pure profits] might lead to immoral actions on behalf of google, then they should voice their opinions. In the end, don't judge larry and sergey if the masses won't do the same.

  5. Utilitarianism is rarely the proper ethical measure for protecting human rights. Thousands would benefit if Nike used (cheap) 10-year olds to make their shoes. But an appeal to virtue ethics (rather than utilitarianism) reminds us that such a practice would be morally wrong.

  6. Oh, come off it, people. If Google had decided to protest censorship in China, what do you *think* would have happened?

    Here's what: China would have banned Google (once it became clear they wouldn't cave), local rivals or unscrupulous Western rivals (*cough* Yahoo! *cough*) would have snatched up the search market, and Google would be fried by its investors/shareholders. I'm *sure* you all think that's better than today's results, right?

    Going into China was not just good for Google's business interests, it was crucial if Google wanted to appear competitive in today's economy, and it certainly didn't hurt the Chinese people, either.

  7. "certainly didn't hurt the Chinese people, either." I´m not sure of that, are you?

  8. > something is good if it
    > brings happiness to the greatest
    > number of people

    What if 95% of the population live happily at the expense of 5% of the population?

    Say, slave work?