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Google’s Red Shift

On the 12th Jan 2010, Google put up a rather long and startling blog post about how and why they plan to review their business operations in China. The post announced that Google has been the victim of a highly sophisticated and targeted attack on its corporate infrastructure originating from China that resulted in the theft of intellectual property from Google. But further investigations revealed that the attack was not so much to steal intellectual property assets but to gain access to the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. Google also announced that at least twenty other large companies from a wide range of businesses including the internet, finance, technology, media and chemical sectors have been similarly targeted. The attack on Google resulted in only two email accounts being compromised. While the figure seems hard to believe, this whole business of human rights activists being targeted, puts a whole new spin on the matter. Google goes on to say that its decision to review its position in China is because of a larger issue at hand – China’s censorship and restrictive stance on free speech on the internet. In line with this, Google announced that it will no longer censor results on Google.cn – the Chinese version of the popular search engine. Perhaps Google has had enough of China’s interference with the beautiful anarchy that is the internet. Enough sacrifices have been made to the freedom of information.

In an effort to speculate on the motives and implications of this announcement, bloggers all over the world are going on about all sorts of things. From how this is a blow to communism to how Google is the only humanitarian corporation in the world. Is the China pull out retaliation to the attack or is there something deeper? Google.cn has been operational since 2006, albeit adhering to censorship laws that the country enforced on the company. Even back then, Google had announced “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.” Looks like that time has finally come after four long years of pandering to Chinese censorship.

One of the first things to understand is that Google has nowhere mentioned for a certainty that they will pull out of China. This may merely be a threat. The official blog post only suggests that they will review the situation in cooperation with government authorities. Whether China calls this a bluff, is yet to be seen. What will happen if China doesn’t blink? Is this decision truly driven by ethical compulsions? Or does business have something to do with it. Let’s look at some of the implications. China is one of the few markets where Google is not numero uno. The reigning king of search in the land of dragons and emperors is Baidu, which commands a 60 per cent share as compared to Google’s 30 per cent. (Baidu also was incidentally attacked – by the Iranian cyber army). Although 30 per cent is not bird feed, it still seems revenue worth loosing, when faced with intrusion attacks, especially when more than half of Google’s revenues come from outside the US.

There is another angle though that is hardly being explored. Some time ago Yahoo! had come under a lot of international humanitarian flack for handing over an email sent by a Chinese journalist to a prodemocracy web site. The mail contained only guidelines on how the Chinese govt wanted journalists to cover the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown. He was charged with disclosing state secrets and is serving a 10 year sentence. If a similar situation happens wherein Google is not able to protect sensitive information, they will face the same public ire. Maybe Google doesn’t want this kind of blood on its hands. As of now Google continues to censor results in China, and has expressed “we remain quite committed to being there”.

Sign out forever

Suicide is not so bad when it comes to a virtual suicide. In fact this web service – suicidemachine.org - couldn’t have made such a morbid subject funnier. Their logic is pretty simple – people have started substituting their online lives with their real ones, and the creators of this website don’t like the way things are going. The Web 2.0 suicide machine allows you to completely and irreversibly delete your online presence. Yes it’s real and it’s forever. Once you sign up and activate it, the web site will run scripts that will first change the password to your social networks and will physically unfriend all contacts and physically delete all the tweets you’ve ever made. The web site has a funny video promo about how a middle aged man opted to delete his online persona and now spends more time with real friends and family. Seems like a rather good alternative than poking and prodding people you don’t really care about right? Well maybe it is. So far about 1,300 people have opted for this service – a drop in the pond considering more than 200 million people are still on Facebook obsessing over that special someone’s profile or commenting on inane status messages. Still Facebook can’t be too happy with this right? You bet. They blocked the sites IP address for a while and even sent suicidemachine.org a legal notice. “Cease and Desist violating Facebook’s statement of rights and responsibilities” it says.

So what do you do after you’ve done killing yourself online? The website has an FAQ with the answer:

“Try calling some friends, take a walk in a park or buy a bottle of wine and start enjoying your real life again. Some Social Suiciders reported that their lives have improved by an approximate average of 25%. Don’t worry, if you feel empty right after you committed suicide. This is a normal reaction which will slowly fade away within the first 24-72 hours.”

Of course we don’t recommend taking this step, only because like real life, this too is irreversible. Yet it might perhaps be put to good use in certain situations. Say you want to get away from a cyber-stalker or maybe you want a fresh start. It might actually be able to help you come back with a bang, in a new and improved version of yourself, especially on sites like twitter that don’t really care about people registering with fake names.