Sergey Brin of Google sat down with TED to talk about the recent revelations about the broad, sophisticated attacks the company has been battling from Chinese sources, and what that struggle means for Google's future in China. In the process, he reveals a few little tidbits of information—and explains why he's not interested in figuring out if the Chinese government is behind the attacks.
Brin starts off by stating the primary goal of the hackers, which wasn't entirely clear before: to gain access to the Gmail accounts of human rights activists in China. That's quite a bombshell, and seems to point the finger of blame squarely at the Chinese government, which has, shall we say, a history of seeking to squash dissidents. But with a simple explanation, Brin puts the entire process of "blaming the Chinese government" in perspective:
I don't actually think the question of whether this was the Chinese government or not is all that important. I know that seems strange. The Chinese government has tens of millions of people in it, and if you look at the associated army and whatnot it's even larger. It's larger than most countries by far. So even if there were a Chinese government agent behind this, it might represent a fragment of policy, as it were. There are many people there, and they have different views.
Unbelievably, that point of view has hardly been mentioned in the press, in favor of an understandable desire to blame an identifiable villain—but of course it's true, to an extent. I'm sure it makes the entire process of assigning blame that much more difficult, but not pointless, as shown by the State Department's willingness to get involved. Should we really hold the government of China responsible for intellectual property theft if it turns out it was ordered by twelve cybersecurity officers in an office somewhere?
Brin went on to explain Google's immediate future in China, as well as showing an unrelentingly idealistic—not unrealistic, necessarily, though the word "naive" was tossed around—attitude toward Google's potential benefits for the Chinese people. Contrary to the typical corporate yearn for ever more profits, Brin painted Google's inquest in China as almost a philanthropic mission:
Perhaps people don't believe this, but all throughout the discussion of originally entering China in 2006 as we did, and the announcement last month, our focus has really been what's best for the Chinese people. It's not been about our particular revenue or profit or whatnot.
The future of Google in China looks doubtful, despite Brin's optimism—he notes that since the Beijing Olympics, China's draconian blocking of both search results and entire repositories like YouTube has only gotten more severe. Google announced awhile back that they want to begin removing the censorship from search results, and will simply pull out of China if that option isn't available, and Brin reasserted that goal, saying only that he's "optimistic" Google and China can work out their differences. After all, Google provides what many would call an essential Internet service—won't it hurt the Chinese people more if they have no access to it at all? But for the moment, Google seems to be standing on principle—and after being attacked, nobody can blame them.