Learning from Google's Chinese censorship decision

Google isn't alone in deciding between the principles of the people running the company and the laws of a country in which it operates

I've read a bunch of comments about Google's decision to stop censoring its Chinese search service. Most fall into one of two categories: those who praise Google for standing up to Chinese suppression of free speech and those who condemn it for not respecting the laws of the sovereign nation within which its subsidiary operated.

For those who take the latter position: With very few exceptions, any individual or corporation that stands up to a totalitarian regime must disrespect its laws. That's how it works, and since, according to SCOTUS, corporations are people too when it comes to political speech, it would appear Google had a legitimate choice to make on the subject.

[ Also on InfoWorld: On a more personal front, Bob urges you to not get trapped in your employer's politics | InfoWorld's Robert X. Cringely has also been following the Google-China clash and reports on the fallout in "The Google-China plot thickens" ]

Those who praise Google's decision must also keep in mind that choosing to not obey the laws of a sovereign nation is a dicey approach to corporate governance at best. Once you start down that path, picking and choosing becomes an interesting proposition, and I'm pretty sure we don't want Google or any other corporation to start picking and choosing which laws to obey here in the United States.

Which brings us to you -- because, increasingly, U.S. citizens with management titles find themselves responsible for relationships with Chinese subsidiaries, business partners, and at times, employees.

I have no answers. I don't even know all of the questions. I do know one, though:

Imagine you're in this situation, and the Chinese government contacts you through your employer, asking you to covertly gather information on someone you do business with. What do you do? Comply, knowing you could be helping send someone to prison for actions that are crimes in China but not the United States?

Or refuse to comply, possibly violating your own company's policies and possibly starting your own little international incident?

Please take the time to post a response. If there are any easy answers, I don't know of them, but I'm pretty sure the problem isn't going to go away any time soon.

Quite the opposite -- an increasing number of us will find ourselves having to deal with it personally.

- Bob

This story, "Learning from Google's Chinese censorship decision," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Bob Lewis's Advice Line blog on InfoWorld.com.