In what Chinese Netizens are calling ‘G-Day’, Google has done it, they pulled out of mainland China and have shifted their services to Hong Kong. When users link to Google.cn they are re-directed to Google.com.hk. Search results will continue to be censored, but rather than be censored by Google in compliance with Chinese law, the search engine will operate unrestricted, and legally, in Hong Kong, and the Chinese government will carry out the filtering. China has described Google’s move as ‘totally wrong’ and the White House has expressed ‘disappointment‘ that a deal could not be reached. An interesting article by Minxin Pei discusses the broader implications of the Google-China spat to relations with the West. For more discussion see, for example, Rebecca MacKinnon’s commentary or readers comments on the Register.
This whole thing has made me think a bit more about a tangential issue: What does Google mean to me? We could replace Google with any of the other big players and the question is the same – what do their services mean to me? How have I come to rely on their services in my daily life and what would happen if that was taken away from me? Because let’s face it, despite the criticism that they receive, companies such as Google offer incredible products and services and continue to surprise us with their innovations, which quickly and seamlessly become a part of how we live our lives. While Google is still available in China in its censored form, the risk was there that their products and services would be unavailable to Chinese users – the risk was there that users would no longer have access to their gmail accounts, Google documents, not just Google search engine.
This might be an ongoing commentary as new things come to me. But to start things off, what have I used Google for in the last day? I have a gmail account, which I use throughout the day. I store my documents in the Google ‘cloud’, though I have an offline back-up. I search and search and search. I used Google maps to look up the location for an appointment and a restaurant. I researched issues concerning the Internet Watch Foundation and the UK Internet Service Providers Association, and I researched primary school options for my daughter in London. I skip between Google Scholar, Google News and Google Shopper (we all need breaks and goods don’t we?) at a shocking frequency throughout my day. I don’t use Blogger as I have my own domain name and another company hosts my blog, but I read several blogs hosted by Google. My day, as an academic who sits in front of her computer much of the day, is dominated by Google. Are there other options? Yes, of course. The Chinese have Baidu. I have Yahoo! or Ask Jeeves or the variety of other options. However, that does not mean they are as good, nor does that account for the fact that Google holds a significant amount of my data (Gmail, Google Docs), which would be unavailable to me if I no longer had Google. This also raises the further issue: if Google withdrew its services, would it still hold your data?