There’s a lot one can say about Google’s decision, announced today, that it will shut down its Chinese search engine at google.cn — or, more precisely, that it will
“stop censoring our search services—Google Search, Google News, and Google Images—on Google.cn. Users visiting Google.cn are now being redirected to Google.com.hk, where we are offering uncensored search in simplified Chinese, specifically designed for users in mainland China and delivered via our servers in Hong Kong.”
But let me cut to the quick: it’s the right thing to do, and Google deserves our praise and approbation for what it is doing. It’s the right thing to do because it defends a very important — I’m tempted to say the most important — principle of all in our social life: that all individuals have the right to communicate freely and without interference with one another. It’s the right thing to do whatever Google’s motivations for doing it might be; just like individuals, collections of individuals (i.e., corporations) always act on the basis of a complex mix of motives – the desire to defend the principle, the desire to make more money, the desire to have a more efficient operation, and many others. But it is the right thing to do irrespective of its motives; if, as appears to be possibly the case, it has taken this step notwithstanding the fact that it may cost it a great deal of money in the future, that just makes it that much more admirable. Corporations have rights, of course, but they also have obligations, legal and moral, to act with integrity and virtue. I think Google has done so here, and we should not be afraid to say so (and to encourage others to follow its lead).