Google search may have left China, but does Google owe responsibilities to the people of a place it has recently left?
This is not an academic question, especially since many believe that Google’s exit will hurt average people in China. According to this CNN article,
Businesses and universities could be substantially affected by the departure of Google from China.
Most of the country’s nearly 400 million Internet users may not be affected by the closure. But academics, university students and other researchers rely heavily on Google’s search services to access information not available through Chinese search engines, like Baidu.com, China’s most popular search portal. Small businesses that depend on Google applications such as Google Docs and Gmail may also suffer, analysts said.
A recent survey of more than 700 Chinese scientists conducted by the journal Nature found that 80 percent regularly use Google to search for academic papers while 60 percent said they use the site to stay on top of new research.
“Students who care more about searching for quality information choose to use Google because it definitely provides better search results than Baidu,” said Xin Liu, a recent graduate of Fudan University in Shanghai. “It will force more and more students to use wall-climbing software.”
“If the filtering increases in any way from the past, it is going to be a problem because none of the Chinese search engines are good at searching the international Internet in English. That is going to impact anyone who relies on that,” Goldkorn said.
Others say they are worried Google applications, including its popular Gmail service and document sharing service Google Docs, could eventually be banned.
The impact on the science community could be especially severe. According to this Nature article,
“Research without Google would be like life without electricity,” says Xiong Zhenqin, an ecologist at Nanjing Agricultural University in Jiangsu province.
Xiong is not alone in thinking that Google is indispensable. Its search engine is a powerful tool for helping scientists to find academic papers and details of conferences or identify potential collaborators. And for most researchers around the world, access to Google — and all its related products, including the literature search Google Scholar — is as unfettered as their access to heat or light.
More than 80% use the search engine to find academic papers; close to 60% use it to get information about scientific discoveries or other scientists’ research programmes; and one-third use it to find science-policy and funding news…. They also rely heavily on other Google products: more than half use Google Scholar, for example, and Google’s mapping and e-mail applications are also popular….
“The findings are very typical of most countries in the world,” says David Bousfield, London-based vice-president and lead analyst of Outsell, an information and publishing consultancy. “Google and Google Scholar have become indispensable tools for scientists.”
Science in China would not come to a halt without Google, adds David Nicholas, an Internet researcher at University College London. But Google “has transformed information-seeking behaviours in academic communities”, and losing such an important research tool would significantly compromise scientists’ efficiency, he says.
For Chinese scientists seeking out academic papers, there are other options. According to one respondent: “It doesn’t matter whether we have Google for science — we have PubMed.”
PubMed, provided by the US National Library of Medicine, is one of many services for searching content in academic databases; others include the Web of Science from Thomson Reuters and Scopus and ScienceDirect, both run by Elsevier. However, “many researchers prefer Google as their primary search tool because they can get a large amount and a large variety of information indexed by Google which they can’t get easily from any other sources”, says Bousfield.
When ScienceDirect opened its content to Google in March 2007, for example, the proportion of traffic channelled from Google rose to more than 40% in the space of a few months, says Nicholas. “We live in an information era and Google is the key to the door of the global village,” he says. “Not having Google would be a huge disadvantage, especially for young academics.”
84% of the scientists who responded to Nature’s survey say that losing Google would “somewhat or significantly” hamper their research…; 78% say that international collaborations would be affected to the same degree. Scientists in the 25–34-year age range were most likely to say that losing Google would “significantly” — rather than “somewhat” — hamper their research.
Nearly half of the survey respondents say that if they lost access to Google’s search engine, they would switch to Baidu, a domestic search engine. Many non-scientists in China are happy with Baidu and don’t really care whether Google stays or goes. “Google has little advantage over Baidu on search algorithms for Chinese-language content,” says Guo Liang, an Internet researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing. But it is much less useful for academics doing English-language searches for material outside China. Guo’s research shows that, despite Baidu’s dominance in China, Google is much more popular among academics and other highly educated people. Nature’s survey also found that only 17% of the respondents use Baidu as their primary search engine.
Guobin Yang, an Internet researcher at Barnard College in New York City, argues that Google.cn has a responsibility to stay. “People have been largely focusing on how the filtered content has limited access to certain information,” he says. “But Google’s presence has also helped the development of civil society in China” because it equips citizens with the information they need to be more politically active.
As one of the survey respondents put it: “If I lose Google, it will [be] just like a man without his eyes.”
Google’s exit of China may hurt many people today, but the amazing thing is that even long after Google leaves China, its (former) existence could to cast a long shadow on Chinese life for years to come. Take Google’s IP assets as an example.
According to the World Intellectual Property Organization, Google has 134 patents / patent applications on file in China. Given that Google search decides to not reap any profit in China in the indefinite future, should Google hold onto those patents or donate these patents to the Chinese public? Should Google leverage those assets as pawns in its chess game against the Chinese government – even if doing so may keep the Chinese people in the dark? Or should Google “transfer” those technologies to companies staying in China to help them provide innovative services to the Chinese populace?
Besides “hard IP,” Google also holds the key to accessing a treasure trove of scholarly knowledge written in English. In recent years, Google has signed agreements with book publishers, copyright holders, scholarly journals, school libraries to digitize and index their content. Does Google have a responsibility to make those information available to the Chinese populace now – especially after choosing to no longer maintain a presence in China? To the extent it has the right to sub-license those information, should Google sub-license those information to Chinese operators in China? To the extent the law allows for it, should the Chinese government compel the same?
Now that Google’s decision to leave China is official, what should be done with Google’s IP in China?
What should a company sworn to “do no evil” do?