Fast Company

Google's Sergey Brin Talks Hacking: Chinese Human Rights Activists Targeted

Google China

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.

[Via TED]

Add New Comment

4 Comments

  • Gregory Ferenstein

    @Aly-Khan & Xunlei, Can you think of any companies that do have nobel intentions in China? What evidence would lead you to believe that Google did, in fact, have the Chinese people's interests at heart?

    --
    @ferenstein

  • Xunlei Sheng

    Google: "our focus has really been what's best for the Chinese people. It's not been about our particular revenue or profit or whatnot."
    well, let's just bring up the facts:
    google's market share in China is lower than 30%
    google has been running into trouble in the last couple years. mainly, its search result being tempered with its paid advertising, its illegal copying of tens of thousands of books by chinese authors... to name a few.

  • Dan Rockwell

    Dan,

    If your goal in writing this is creating alarm, you succeeded.

    Remember Burke's comment: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

    Thanks you

    Leadership Freak
    Dan Rockwell
    Recent blog: Go with Average Joe
    http://leadershipfreak.wordpre...

  • Aly-Khan Satchu

    Lets Try a Thought Experiment for Moment and Sergey Brin and his Enterprise are Chinese and this Argument is inverted.

    Now I quote Sergey Brin himself

    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.

    Thats just a little unbelievable and so Faux Naif as to be a little insulting. I think this Whole Argument [at least seen outside the US] smacks of Political Opportunism and that the State Department made a Poor Political Decision by getting suckered into this.

    We live in an Information Century. Google are the Prime Market Maker and Repository of Information. To Argue that You are trying to Save the World is a Strategy whose Life has expired.

    Aly-Khan Satchu
    www.rich.co.ke