Google vs. China: When Net censorship meets 'information imperialism'

The war of words between the United States and China heats up, thanks in part to Google and the U.S. State Department

Information imperialists unite! You have nothing to lose but your Gmail accounts.

Yes, "information imperialists" -- that's what the People's Republic of China is calling us now, thanks to Google and the U.S. State Department. Hey, it's as good a description as any.

[ Also on InfoWorld: Find out how it all started in "Google's China problem (and ours)" | Stay up to date on Robert X. Cringely's musings and observations with InfoWorld's Notes from the Underground newsletter. ]

The blowback against Google's announcement that it was hacked by Chinese cyber agents -- and in response would be lifting the restrictions that keep users of its Chinese search engine in the dark -- has been utterly fascinating. (PC World's JR Raphael serves up a nice summary of Google-China history.)

I'm trying to remember the last time a corporate decision -- and really, not so much the decision as the public way it was announced -- turned into an international incident. I'm drawing a blank. Anybody out there in Cringeville think of anything?

Yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton upped the ante in a speech calling for Internet freedom across the globe. She said the United States would actively encourage the development of technology to circumvent restrictions on Internet access -- something private companies like have been doing on their own for a while. Sayeth Madame Secretary:

Both the American people and nations that censor the Internet should understand that our government is committed to helping promote Internet freedom... We want to put these tools in the hands of people who will use them to advance democracy and human rights, to fight climate change and epidemics.

Needless to say, that didn't sit well with the "Internet censorship? What Internet censorship?" crowd on the other side of the planet.

Per All Things D:

In a statement posted to China’s foreign ministry Web site, Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said the United States should “cease using so-called Internet freedom to make groundless accusations against China. The US has criticised China’s policies to administer the internet, and insinuated that China restricts internet freedom. This runs contrary to the facts and is harmful to China-US relations. We urge the United States to respect the facts….China’s Internet is open.”

And by "open," they mean open to all right-minded citizens who have never typed the words "Falun Gong," "Dalai Lama," or "Tiananmen Square massacre" into their search engines. Otherwise, it's not so open -- more like open just a crack in a room without electricity.

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