Of course, it's not clear that Google really cares either -- because this all came about after Google got cyberpunk'd by hackers inside China. To my admittedly warped mind, it still smacks more of revenge than anything principled.
James Fallows of the Atlantic Wire had an interesting conversation with Google chief legal beagle David Drummond, in which he states:
The initial premise, that it all started from a hacking episode, is not quite right. We did have a hacking incident. Most hacking incidents that you see are freelancers -- maybe government sponsored, maybe not. ... This attack, which was from China, was different. It was almost singularly focused on getting into Gmail accounts specifically of human rights activists, inside China or outside....There were political aspects to these hacking attacks that were quite unusual.
That was distasteful to us. It seemed to us that this was all part of an overall system bent on suppressing expression, whether it was by controlling internet search results or trying to surveil activists. It is all part of the same repressive program, from our point of view. We felt that we were being part of that.
Pure speculation here: I'm guessing that ever since Google decided to enter the Chinese market, there's been a roiling internal debate among Sergey, Larry, and Eric about how to deal with China's repressive policies, and that the hacking incident flipped one or more of them over to the anti-China side. If I had to handicap it, I'd say Sergey was in the "screw China" camp, Eric was in the "let's just keep our heads down and make millions" crew, and Larry was the swing vote. Just my own mental fantasy playing out here. (If have got inside info to the contrary, please share.)
This drama is only just beginning to unfold. I don't see China backing down, ever. I don't see any other U.S. Internet giants following Google's lead, or Uncle Sam doing anything more than issuing vague statements of support for Internet freedom. The question is whether Google will stay the course or will its resolve eventually melt as it loses its still-tiny foothold in the world's largest market.
Will Google stay out of China? Should it? And what about Microsoft and Yahoo? Post your thoughts below or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.