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Google out of China: Doing no evil

Google tried for years to cooperate with censorship in China. But in the end, cofounder Sergey Brin's boyhood experience under totalitarianism demanded a different decision.

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Google cofounder Sergey Brin spent the early years of his childhood in the Soviet Union. His family felt firsthand what it was like to live under a totalitarian government. They didn’t like it, and managed to escape to the United States while he was still a young boy.

For all the talk about the business wisdom of Google’s move to pull out of China, it may have finally rested on the Brin family’s experiences under an oppressive political system. More than just a business decision, it was the right thing to do.

China’s ongoing censorship of access to the Internet has begun to embolden other countries to take similar steps, Mr. Brin said this week. The level of discomfort at Google in cooperating with Chinese censorship finally became too high, he said. Now, this step by giant Google might cause other censoring countries to think twice.

Since entering China in 2006, Google had won about one-third of the search-engine market there. The company agreed to cooperate with the Chinese government in censoring search results to block material that was unflattering to the government, such as its bloody suppression of Chinese protesters at Tiananmen Square in 1989.

But in January, Google announced that attempts had been made to hack into the Google Gmail accounts of known Chinese dissidents. That finally was too much to ignore.

Google now has set up shop in Hong Kong, offering a Chinese language service without censorship. A new Google “score card” tells users which of its services are still available in China and which may be “obstructed.” Google’s YouTube video site and blogging service, for example, continue to be completely blocked in China.

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