supping with a long spoon, etc.

Google was shocked to find out that Chinese censorship means that China actually controls information within its borders and would flex its muscle whenever it was in the state interest to do so. And the U.S. news stories on the extent of Google's shock all helpfully reported this suppposedly wide eyed astonishment (following closely behind the bootlicking, widespread reprinting of Google's press release for the Google Phone).

It is awful shocking, isn't it? All this time I thought that free-speech throttling was metaphoric. And here those dastardly Chinese really mean it when they say there is no such thing! I wonder who is going to win this game of chicken? The powerful (quasi-fascistic) government of the most dynamic economy on the planet filled with billions of actual and potential customers or the money-loving corporation with an established track record of accomodationism (though not as toadying as Yahoo) seeking to maximize profits within a rapidly evolving business model built on abstractions and the reality of an United States economy slipping fast in relative significance?

The corporate propaganda of Google still rests upon glossy liberationist claims but of course this only has meaning within the constraints of state governance. France's recent assertions of territorial sovereignty over even extraterritorial internet commerce must have raised some flags. Google acts partially as a force of free expression here in the good ole USA in some important ways (Blogger is owned by Google) but of course this system is unusually protective of these rights.

One thing that is certain is that despite the wishful visualization of the internet as dissolving state sovereignties in the age of globalization, or as the functional heart of a Hardt and Negri style multitude, the reality is that the state is not withering away, and is not going to anytime soon, and global governance remains only a compelling theory. If anything, the downturn has just further revealed the central role of the state in all corners of governance. (Time to revist the work of Jack Goldsmith and Tim Wu)

Anyway, things are far more complicated then they seem with casual dichotomies. Siva Vaidhyanathan as usual has an interesting take on this:

"The odd thing about Google in authoritarian parts of the world - as opposed to just about everywhere else - is how little it matters. Google plays no role in actively oppressing the Chinese people. And Google plays almost no role in their potential liberation as well. These two positions - that Google is part of the problem and that Google is part of the solution in China - emerge from a lack of understanding of both the Internet in general and Google's policies and services in China. If The People's Republic of China ever opens itself up to the turmoil of free speech and democratic accountability, it will not be merely because the Internet was free and open or because Google did not help the government limit access to certain sites. Nothing is that simple."

"Google would be foolish to abandon the Chinese market. In fact, it would commit something close to commercial malpractice to avoid or vacate China. Google is not a free-speech engine. It is an advertising company. It is also a publicly traded corporation with a duty to provide returns to its shareholders. And while both the company and its critics in the human rights community profess a shared commitment to free speech, Google can't possible rise to the level of its own rhetoric on such matters."

Vaidhyanathan's discussion is long and nuanced and worth reading in its entirety.


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