China, India and the Google wars

March 14, 2010

Google is increasingly facing its share of controversies in both China and India – two countries that are also competing head-to-head on the IT, IT services and outsourcing fronts. To recap recent events: An investigation by Google official found that the company in mid-December had been hit with major cyber attacks it believes originated from China. In fact, the attack had targeted as many as 34 different companies or other entities and investigators are investigating whether the attack may some how be linked to the Chinese government or its intelligence services. Google then announced that it will no longer help to enforce China’s censorship policies and this may force it to exit China – leaving behind US$300 million in annual revenues and a country with more than 330 million internet users.

However, China’s lost may in fact be India’s gain. Although India only has about 50 million internet users, the Economic Times recently noted that experts and company officials are already saying that China’s censorship moves may help India to attract more intellectual property-based investments and gain a competitive edge over china by positioning itself as a better place to do business.

google China problem
Nevertheless, India may still prove to be a treacherous minefield for Google and other internet companies to navigate given its volatile mix of religious, ethnic and caste politics combined with a history of mob violence. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, Internet companies in India (such as Yahoo, Facebook and Twitter) are expected to help the government enforce online standards by removing objectionable material and even helping to track down users. In fact, the article noted several recent censorship type incidents and that the Mumbai police has even set up an around-the-clock facility with trained staff who “cyber patrol” the Web to look for violations and to respond to outside complaints from Internet users. On the other hand, the article also noted that no matter how murky the free-speech zone in India may be, the country has (thus far) steered clear of the systematic censorship practiced by many other countries such as China. 

Meanwhile, Sachin Pilot, India’s minister of state in the ministry of communications and technology, noted in a separate Wall Street Journal interview that India is providing a more fair and functioning system compared with China. He pointed out that in India, there is a judiciary that looks after the grievances of any corporation and an established rule of law – important considerations for long-term business planning and investment considerations. However, he also added that a person’s freedom ends where someone else’s nose starts and that you cannot keep punching where that someone else’s nose begins. In other words, he offered a rationale for India to practice some form of censorship when it comes to the internet.

Hence, will India’s more open policies help the country to stay ahead of China or will it also potentially hold it back? Only time will tell. However, clearly the Google wars are not over with as the front shifts from China over to India.


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