Censorship as Business Strategy


By Samuel Greengard

These days you're lucky if you can get through your morning java without encountering some mention of Google and Internet censorship.

You can view our slide show about Internet censorship and how it works here. Related.

What's important to examine--and what's almost entirely overlooked by the mainstream media--is that what appears to be censorship is actually a weapon in a 21st century economic war -- one that may get uglier before it gets better.

Yes, China does sporadically block a few keywords, particularly centering on Tibet, Taiwanese independence and Tiananmen Square. But as Andrew Lih, Visiting Professor of New Media at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, explains: "About 99 percent of content flows through untouched."

So much for the Great Firewall. What doesn't pass through are social networking services such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Picasa and Flickr, to name a few. Not surprisingly, a smorgasbord of alternative knock-offs is available in China. Skype is also blocked. "Governments block certain services in order to give their own companies a competitive advantage," Lih asserts. This protectionist policy is clearly succeeding.

Today, the second largest domain in the world after .com is .cn. Altogether, more than 16 million domain names end with these letters. Although Google holds an impressive 80 percent market share for Web searches in the U.S. and upwards of 90 percent in Europe, it has never climbed much above 30 percent in China, where the PRC firm Baidu operates. In March, Financial Times stated outright that Chinese authorities "have no intention" of allowing Google to "assume the sort of world dominance it enjoys in many other countries around the world."

Lih adds: "Google knew that it had reached about as large a market share as it ever could or would."

For an interesting editorial on the topic, click here.

The takeaway? U.S. business and IT leaders should realize is that all the discussion about freedom and an open flow of information is largely a smokescreen for a bigger issue: who controls what. The PRC government is serious about thwarting, if not entirely shutting out, foreign entities. And it clearly has the power to succeed. The sooner government officials and business leaders stop playing the censorship rhetoric game the better.

Welcome to the new world order.