Few countries have dared to directly confront China on its range of human rights violations with as much force as Google did this week. And for that, Google was awarded. By proclaiming it is “no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn,” and threatening to pull out from the country of nearly 400 million Internet users, Google managed to unite both its critics and allies in the West, as well as some of the Chinese public, who praised the corporation for its stance in heroic terms.
Google's position is perfectly aligned with its corporate credo as an information company. It also brings in much needed good will as it seeks to grow in new areas which has brought with it expected criticism ranging from loyal fans worried about its changing priorities and competitors in the form of antitrust reviews. Google entered China with trepidation in 2006 and the caveat that it would “monitor” the relationship, and now it is making good on that promise.
At a time when public trust in companies to “do the right thing” remains low, Google's decision stands out. Study after study has shown that consumers are shopping not just for product features but for corporate ethos as well. Today's consumer expects companies to make a difference in the environment, on health issues, safety – and yes, on privacy.
Google's story with China isn't over yet, but by taking a very public stance, it has ensured that its position is well known. It will need to carry through with its threat in some manner in order to maintain the good will it has accrued with this decision.