Wow! This time I really have to disagree with Peter in his recent post where he asserted that if Google leaves China it will be to protect its shareholders and the integrity of its data, not because of principles and business ethics. Protecting your online business from hackers is something that every business must do no matter where in the world that business operates. China does not have a monopoly on hackers. But, Google's mission is to make the world's information "universally accessible and useful," and its corporate motto is "Don't be evil." That goes to the heart of the problem in China.
By all accounts, China has one of the most sophisticated systems to censor the Internet you could find anywhere in the world. The Communist regime demands that companies filter content that the government considers offensive and that U.S. companies identify those who are using the Internet to criticize the Chinese government. Google knew this going into China; yet, they went anyway because at the time they opened their offices in China, Internet users in China had exceeded 103 million, second only to the U.S. But these users had only limited access, and Google also thought it could overcome the issue of censorship. However, China had placed firewall devices at its borders, mandated Internet service providers to censor content, and demanded that individual users exercise self discipline. China had erected arguably the world's most sophisticated firewall around the entire country. Not only did China block content, it also used the Internet to gather information about those who disagreed with the government and some of those people ended up in jail.
Google has had experience with the Chinese government since 2000 when it launched its Chinese-language version of its famous browser. Since that time, it has experienced countless problems, and Google's vice president for global communications, Elliot Schrage, testified in 2006 before the House Committee on International Relations that "our service in China was not something we felt proud of."
The bottom line is: this is about censorship and Google's business ethics and integrity. If Google agrees to filter its search engine to satisfy the Chinese government so that it can remain in China, then Page and Brin had better change their corporate mission and mantra. Their integrity, which has aready suffered, will be lost. I would really hate to see that happen.