Google Shareholders Vote For Censorship

Google Shareholders say "Go right ahead, be evil."

This is the proposal that was rejected. Google's board of directors, and a majority of their shareholders, think the following is a bad idea:

  1. Data that can identify individual users should not be hosted in Internet-restricting countries, where political speech can be treated as a crime by the legal system.
  2. The company will not engage in pro-active censorship.
  3. The company will use all legal means to resist demands for censorship. The company will only comply with such demands if required to do so through legally binding procedures.
  4. Users will be clearly informed when the company has acceded to legally binding government requests to filter or otherwise censor content that the user is trying to access.
  5. Users should be informed about the company's data retention practices, and the ways in which their data is shared with third parties.
  6. The company will document all cases where legally binding censorship requests have been complied with, and that information will be publicly available.
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31 Responses:

  1. dachte says:

    It strongly brings to mind Tom Lehrer's song "Selling Out"....

  2. evan says:

    Not disagreeing with you (I think your summary is more or less correct) but I wonder if this would've also forced G to drop Germany, France, etc. where mentions of nazis must be censored.

    [stormfront] on google.de: http://www.google.de/search?hl=de&q=stormfront
    "Aus Rechtsgründen hat Google 4 Ergebnis(se) von dieser Seite entfernt. Weitere Informationen über diese Rechtsgründe finden Sie unter ChillingEffects.org."

    • four says:

      it appears my german isp will not resolve it

      lakshmi:~% nslookup
      > stormfront.org
      Server: 213.168.112.60
      Address: 213.168.112.60#53

      Non-authoritative answer:
      *** Can't find stormfront.org: No answer
      > server ns1.ucsd.edu
      Default server: ns1.ucsd.edu
      Address: 128.54.16.2#53
      > stormfront.org
      Server: ns1.ucsd.edu
      Address: 128.54.16.2#53

      Non-authoritative answer:
      Name: stormfront.org
      Address: 74.52.106.234
      • evan says:

        Yeah, it's pretty depressing. Censoring "democracy" and censoring "nazi" are certainly different, but it's also hard to defend "obeying country A's censorship laws are ok while obeying country B's censorship laws are unacceptable".

        To respond to the actual post: just because a measure was voted down doesn't mean the people involved are directly opposed to its intent.
        For example, regarding #4, searching for tienanmen on google.cn produced "据当地法律法规和政策,部分搜索结果未予显示。" ("According to local laws, regulations and policies, some search results are not shown.")

        With all that said, my personal opinion is that China is an ethical disaster: you can't morally do business there, and there's also nothing you can do to help fix the situation.

        • no_brakes23 says:

          "China is an ethical disaster: you can't morally do business there, and there's also nothing you can do to help fix the situation."

          IAWTC

        • shandrew says:

          "According to local laws, regulations and policies, some search results are not shown."

          If they think this information is important, why don't they show it on the top of the search results? 80-90% of searches never get scrolled that far down. Why hide that information?

  3. rstevens says:

    Never prouder to have resisted depending on my gmail!

  4. substitute says:

    1. Inevitable but depressing. To evil!

    2. Two Ton Boa is great, I think.

  5. ammonoid says:

    Not being evil is suprisingly hard for the world of portals. Who knew herding information was so political?

    Everytime I hear about stuff like this I get a video in my head of Bruce Willis in 12 Monkeys in the asylum. "I've got to GATHER INFORMATION" *drool*

  6. otterley says:

    Do you honestly expect a publicly-traded company to do anything other than to take actions expected to maximize perceived shareholder value in the short term?

    The amusing, albeit sad, thing about a motto such as "Don't be evil" is that while it sounds highfalutin, ethical and wonderful, it carries with it absolutely zero substantive meaning, which means it can be interpreted any way the speaker likes.

    In that vein, it's just like "Support the troops."

    • jwz says:

      Did I sound surprised?

      • otterley says:

        The fact that you mention it at all makes it seem as though you expected a different outcome.

        • specialagentm says:

          Nah, he just likes to crush other people's spirits. We all have our hobbies, you know.

        • balamuthia says:

          I mention things pretty regularly in my journal, sometimes because I'm surprised and others just to inform.

          Simply posting a topic in one's journal doesn't mean they had any expectation at all.

  7. nothings says:

    Didn't the google-goes-public thing involve some trick where Page and Brin's shares were worth 10x the votes, or some such, so that a shareholder vote just means 'whatever Page and Brin agree on'? So is a vote by the shareholders actually just a vote by Page and Brin, or was this actually a headcount as implied by 'a majority of Google shareholders today voted against an anti-censorship proposal'?

    • bikerwalla says:

      Proxy voting.

      If you're a shareholder, you'll get a notice before the meeting, letting you know when the next meeting is; should you choose not to attend, all you have to do is sign this paper saying "I agree with whatever the board's majority says and allow them to vote my shares."

      • alexmoskalyuk says:

        Page, Brin, and Schmidt control roughly two-thirds of the company. Decision of the individual shareholders did not matter in this case.

        • nothings says:

          So this was a no-op. Page and Brin already said they wanted to be in china, that they (supposedly) think that's the best way to not be evil. So, they'd already decided to do China, this proposal comes along which would (in their interpretation) require them to get out of China, they decide to stay in China.

          So not really a notable story at all compared to the original China kurfluffle.

          • lohphat says:

            Being in China is not evil, it's another in-road to weakening the power structure. The more information that flows into CHina the better, filtered or not -- incremental change is better than nothing.

            The alternative was to stay out of China and let Yahoo or MS fill the void.

            Compared to 1970, China is a paradise -- they're still a bunh of murderous two-faced bastards (mmm..._blank">execution buses) But China has *always* been this way -- a monarchy/warlord system transformed into the oligarchy/party-leader system.

            China hasn't been Communist for over a decade -- any step towards an open society will eventually turn the tide when enough of a middle-class evolves (as we are seeing now).

  8. gryazi says:

    But if we can't identify the terrorists and torture them to extract confessions and avert the big scene just before the ending where our heroes run away from the explosion in slow motion, then the terrorists will have won!

    Or, uh, something.

  9. xthread says:

    Which countries in the world do you believe that Google could have legally continued corporate operations in were they to have passed that set of resolutions?

    • babbage says:

      I don't see any item in the proposal that would have forced Google to contravene any local law. Do you?

      • xthread says:

        Yes.

        On an item by item basis:
        1. Data that can identify individual users should not be hosted in Internet-restricting countries, where political speech can be treated as a crime by the legal system.
        Okay, every country with hate speech or holocaust denial laws is out - so much for (at a minimum) France, Canada, Germany, and most of Northern Europe.
        2. The company will not engage in pro-active censorship.
        And China.
        3. The company will use all legal means to resist demands for censorship. The company will only comply with such demands if required to do so through legally binding procedures.
        I think this provision doesn't actually have legal issues.
        4. Users will be clearly informed when the company has acceded to legally binding government requests to filter or otherwise censor content that the user is trying to access.
        Ok, so operating in the US is also out... (all of the common sorts of court order demanding user-identifying information also specify that the user not be informed. So there's no way to follow this rule and remain within the law)
        5. Users should be informed about the company's data retention practices, and the ways in which their data is shared with third parties.
        Modulo the court-ordered access issue in (4), this could and should actually be doable. It's a pity that this wasn't offered as a standalone resolution.
        6. The company will document all cases where legally binding censorship requests have been complied with, and that information will be publicly available.
        And now we're back to 'but the court orders require that the existence of the order not be revealed at the time of the order.'

        So, in general, approving that set of resolutions would lead to Google either being instantly in violation of local law, or merely unable to serve the vast majority of the first world.

  10. insomnia says:

    And what does that say, given that a goodly amount of Google stock is owned by its owners / employees / the company?

  11. babbage says:

    1. The *public* data that Google crawls from the Internet can be used to identify individuals. That is the nature of a subset of the data on the Internet. Not hosting that in China would add significant amounts to search response time. It would also mean trips across the Great Firewall. I doubt the Great Firewall guarantees reasonable response time.

    2. This is really the nub of the issue. If you have a choice between operating both google.cn and google.com and only operating the latter, which exposes more information to people? So which is censorship?

    3. This is the shitty stick in the fizzy mineral water. AIUI, the Chinese govt. don't even tell people what the rules are. They just cut them off when the "rules" are broken.

    4. I think Google already does this; see other posts in the thread.

    5. I suppose Google are moving in this direction; there was that post on their blog about anonymisation.

    6. They already do this; see http://www.chillingeffects.org/search.cgi

    • strspn says:

      Those few hundred milliseconds of response time means you have to respond to subpoenas for the identity of people -- who might, as a result, spend decades in prison for what they said -- instead of laughing at them like 2chan does.

      • babbage says:

        I'm not sure we're talking about the same thing here. My comment about response time was about (probably) keeping web indexes local to China. Whetever is in a web index is already publicly-accessible data even before it arrives in the index. It got fetched from http://www.foo.com/ for example. That's why I think we must not be talking about the same thing. Improsioning someone in China for something they posted to the web won't require a subpoena to Google; the data is out there on the web already.

        Maybe you are referring to the possibility that someone might get into trouble in China for something they *searched for* rather than *published* (i.e., posted, blogged). If so, I don't understand the logical connection to response time that you appear to be making. These are two different things, but I am not sure which one you are making your point about.

        • strspn says:

          I was thinking of the infamous case of Yahoo disclosing a dissident's identity after receiving a Chinese subpoena stemming from a message board post.

          Surely Google Groups posters would be subject to the same scrutiny, but there are a whole lot of problems with search alone.

          If you don't do business in totalitarian countries, you aren't subject to the outrageous whims of their courts. If you do, you are. And if you want to balk, you have to face the fact that your employees will likely be jailed, and your and their assets seized.