I'm not impressed with the kneejerk responses I've seen to the announcement that Google has caved in to Chinese demands to impose a political filter on their search engine. Most people are treating it as though its on a par with the unforgiveable treachery of Yahoo
But, for a start, (as far as I can gather) it does not involve offering up personal details of any users to the dictatorship. And - from what their CEO said on the radio this morning - the way the filters will work will be similar to what already happens in Germany and France. Yes Germany - that bastion of liberal western values - already has a filter agreement with Google to prevent access to sites such as those which preach "Holocaust Denial". And the French forbid anything which might stir up racial hatred.
What I believe happens is that when a site is blocked for reasons decided by the German or French governments, a notice is displayed to that effect. So all interested citizens are at least able to see that their government has censored a site. This, of course, is just as evil in Germany or France as it is in China, so the first question is "Why all this fuss about China? Why didn't we see the same outpouring of angst on the occasion of the European precedents?"
But secondly, although it is a repressive measure on the part of whichever government imposes such a regime, at least the "censorship notice" alerts citizens to the repressive nature of their government. Neither Microsoft nor Yahoo, incidentally, who signed up to be China's bitches many moons back, bother to inform their users that they are being censored. Google is at least promising to do that much.
I've already heard it argued that this is "fair enough" in Germany/France because they are "democracies" and their citizens can "influence" the government to change its policy, if enough of them give a damn.
I can't let that go without pointing out that democracy is nothing to do with "influencing" government. It's supposed to be about "implementing" government. But you'll get plenty of that another time. The point is that although the German and French elective dictatorships are considerably more liberal and easier to replace than the Chinese one, the difference is one of degree, not principle.
Meanwhile, although I would prefer to see all Western businesses refusing to do business with any regimes which aren't at least as liberal as our own, I can concede that there may be some merit in reminding the Chinese surfer, whenever s/he goes looking for "freedom" that their government won't let them see such sites.
That reminder alone could be a nicely subversive message.