It Had To Happen: A Google Boycott

By Nathan Weinberg

Years ago, Sergey Brin and Larry Page started a simple project at Stanford. Years ago, Sergey and Larry decided to create a simple search engine company. Over the last two years, Sergey and Larry have become some of the richest men on the globe. And now, Sergey and Larry get something they never expected: accusations of aiding in censorship and human rights abuses.

The fact of the matter is, when Google agreed to launch its censored, it wasn’t just providing the best possible internet search experience allowed under Chinese law. It was condoning the actions of the Chinese government in restricting access for its citizens, and connecting itself to the other crimes of that government.

Google has connected itself to the massacre in Tiananmen Square. Google is connecting itself to the way that government treats the Falun Gong and and the seperatist movement in Tibet. Google connects itself with the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, and the millions of deaths it spawned. Google connects itself with Mao Zedong, with the torture and mistreatment of prisoners, with the killings of baby girls for families that want their one child to be a male.

Google is fighting back against the U.S. Department of Justice for a list of publicly available searches, but has it stood up once for those suffering in China!? Has it stood up once for the dead?

For shame.

The worst part is, I can’t entirely blame their actions. I’m of the “allow, don’t do” model of controversial politics, one that says, “You can do something that is morally gray but legally allowed”. I can’t fathom the idea of a person wanting an abortion, but I firmly believe in a woman’s right to have one. I also feel that when you take an action like that, even though I allow your right to abort that child, you should feel ashamed to do so.

I believe Google has the right to censor its searches. That is the cost of doing business in China. But to cloak it in their typical PR-bullshit, to claim that it is in the best interests of Chinese users and not their bottom line, to not once acknowledge that this is the result of laws that should never be, that disgusts me. People have died for this, and how dare you ignore them.

There’s been talk of a boycott passed around, with some discussion on the term “Red Tuesday”, and I am completely on board. On that day, I will replace my Google ads with an image explaining exactly why. I hope enough people do this to affect Google’s bottom line. I hope enough people do it that it hits Google’s founders where it really hurts, in the stock price. I hope it sends a message that its better to stick by your guns and lose than to sell your soul and win.

The people of China deserve better.

Also, read Miel’s open letter

January 29, 2006 by Nathan Weinberg in:

25 Responses to “It Had To Happen: A Google Boycott”

  1. » Open BlogSpot Letter To Google » InsideGoogle » part of the Blog News Channel Says:

    […] This BlogSpot blog has been set up as an open letter to Google, telling the search company not to censor results anywhere in the world, not in China or anywhere else. It will keep collecting comments (291 so far) until it decides there are enough, and then send the whole thing to Google. Alexander, I think you can consider mine and Miel’s open letters as available to include in your group open letter. Posted: January 29, 2006 by Nathan Weinberg in: […]

  2. Brock Says:

    Anyone who boycots Google over this is a hypocrite. Everyone in America buys Chinese-made products. Every DVD player pays taxes to the Chinese government. Every pair of sneakers. Every shirt and shoe.

    More importantly, all of the other companies in China are doing the same thing. Are we going to boycot every company that does business there? Where is the Microsoft boycott? Yahoo? IBM? Nike? Johnson & Johnson? Honda? Citibank?

    What would be the point, anyway, since only wealth will allow the Chinese people to organize against their government. Only economic growth will lift them above the poverty which is Communism’s gift to the middle kingdom.

    It’s not Google’s job to fix China. If Google’s search engine helps the rest of China become wealthier, then they’ll help freedom and democracy. There’s more than a billion Chinese people who want the same things you and I do, and the more of them who have Google, the more quickly we’ll reach a better futre.

    And no, I don’t work for Google.

  3. matt Says:

    Any more info or a link to more info in regards to the boycott? I’d join in. Hell, google results aren’t that far from MSN and yahoo as far as I’m concerned, I have no problem changing search engines or ignoring adsense ad’s in support of this.

  4. » Google boycott? Says:

    […] Looks like one is being proposed in regards to the recent censorship of google search results in China. Nathan of Blog News Channel is carrying a story regarding it. I don’t know many of the details, but I’ll join in if it happens. Google’s results aren’t THAT ‘above and beyond’ Yahoo and MSN. I can switch search engines and ignore adsense ad’s pretty easily. Hopefully if something gets organized around it other folks will join in as well. […]

  5. matrix Says:

    Umm, if Nathan feels so strongly about this then why doesn’t he block his Google ads altogether? Just Red Tuesday? Hmm…

  6. Nathan Weinberg Says:

    Brock: There are others that would be better suited to organize a boycott of Nike than myself. Additionally, this is an opportunity, where the interest is high enough, to actually pull this off. Every U.S. corporation should feel what it’s like when your users prove they have more principles than you do.

    Matt: I’ll let you know, both via email and this blog, when I have more info.

    Matrix: That’s a very difficult question. I don’t want to shoot myself in the foot, and cut off my most significant revenue stream, money I need to support myself and pay for my upcoming wedding. If the boycott goes beyond one day, I will continue to participate, and run Yahoo ads past that date. If the Yahoo ads are seen as just another company with this problem, I may seek alternate sources, perhaps even petition you guys for some help, but I don’t know if I can swear off AdSense altogether. I need the money from Google far more than Google needs the money from China, and I don’t feel good about it. If I can cut them out, at least for the remainder of this situation, I promise I will.

  7. OrangeSlice Says:

    I’ve followed your blog for almost a year, but I’m sorry to say I won’t be anymore.

    Pull your head out of your ass. Google is following the law in China, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

    Google can’t be expected to impose human rights on a country whose people have none. By definition, if Google were to do that, they would be “doing evil.”

    But maybe if you thought things through instead of immediately crying moral outrage, you’d see things logically. If you think you have the right to impose your culture and your laws on the Chinese, then the Chinese have the right to impose their culture and their laws on you. And I don’t think you’d like that very much at all.

    If you can’t figure that out on your own, you have no place in society.

  8. Trevor Says:

    I’m going to agree with Matrix on this one. If you don’t *completely* abandon all Google generated revenue streams, you are in support of all that you think is wrong with Google. (I, for one, don’t think Google is in the wrong on this one.)

  9. Nathan Weinberg Says:

    Orange: The law is not always just. And I think I am more incensed with Google’s reaction to criticism than their actual actions, given that they are not the first company to do this, and they certainly won’t be the last. Once again, in the face of legitimate concern, Google chooses to completely ignore the human issues at hand. Did you read their blog post? They actually complimented the Chinese government in it for “lifting of 400 million people out of poverty”, saying this had to do with “quality problems”, and not with gaining market share in an emerging economy.

    Fact is, before this move, Google already had significant market share in China. Giving into the Chinese government was an attempt to get even more.

    Trevor: I’m considering it. This is not a done issue.

  10. Nathan Weinberg Says:

    And another thing: This is purely an emotional reaction from me. On an intellectual level, I agree with Google. That doesn’t make it right.

  11. mahlon Says:


    An AdSense boycott is likely to be financially imperceptible. But it’s one more voice to be raised against Google’s compromised values.

    I’ve removed AdSense from the two blogs I run, and And I won’t reinstate the ads until Google renounces its policy of censorship.

    As a shareholder and frequent Google fanboy, it’s especially disappointing to watch as Google sells out. It’s clearly the wrong ethical choice, and I believe it’s a short-sighted strategic choice as well. Google may have irreversibly damaged the one advantage that no competitor could touch — the trust of users around the world.

    As John Battelle pointed out recently, “There’s still time to pull out, guys.” Google has a small window of opportunity to second-guess this disasterous decision, and generate tremendous positive media attention in the process.

  12. Nathan Weinberg Says:

    Mahlon, on an investor level, considering Google’s growth, it can shut down and lose so little money as to be imperceptible, so you are absolutely right that they can pull out now and get good press and lose little. As I said, Google was already winning in China, and this is greedy overkill.

  13. Nathan Weinberg Says:

    Matt: I can’t be absolutely sure, but I’m thinking the Red Tuesday idea got its start at Hammer of Truth.

  14. matrix Says:

    So, if Google did not censor for China, wouldn’t China just block Google alltogether anyway? If so then the question would be is no Google better than a censored Google? Sure you could have an uncensored Google available everwhere but China, but that would just odd. What’s interesting is that although politically sensitive issues will be censored, my guess is a lot of indirectly political issues will not. Simple western culture, new, history etc., will make it’s way through. BTW, I’m just making assumptions here, so take it as that. : ) I mean take a look at this: At least that’s not censored. ; )

  15. matrix Says:

    BTW, sorry about the poke Nathan. You are right in that Google has the backing and revenue to make the stand on this while we can’t. The question now becomes, does Google say no, do they censor to make a buck, or are they censoring to let other content slip through. What would be interesting is to run a few tests on vs. Baidu and see which of the two is “more open.” Maybe Google has an underground railroad of sorts? More speculation. : )

  16. Dave Says:

    Nathan, I commend you on your decision to participate in Red Tuesday. If more people concerned with Google’s ethical practices were aware of the boycott, they would have no choice but to listen to the consumer.

    Also, a lot of people don’t understand the concept of ethics these days. To those people, just remember, it’s easy for you to take it for granted that you live in a free society. Most of you here are bloggers and probably wouldn’t like the idea of being sent to prison for criticizing the government online. If you want a refresher on Chinese government policies toward journalists, do a Google search for Zheng Yichun.

    Just don’t bother looking on

  17. Philipp Lenssen Says:

    More on Red Tuesday was here, but the author now considers that people could too easily misunderstand the campaign (i.e. think that Google is the core of evil, which it of course isn’t):

    If anyone thinks that what Google is doing is morally right, fine, that’s your opinion… but you should then not have used Google in the past years as their decision so far was to not comply with Chinese censorship laws. If you want to boycott Nathan’s blog for arguing the position Google had for years, then you should have boycotted Google for those years.

    By the way, to the one who asked, was — and at this moment still is — accessible from China (I saw it myself on a trip). Google says it was only accessible 90% of the time, and that other issues decreased usability, or made the usage more expensive.

  18. matt Says:

    Nathan: Will be interesting to see what happens. Let me know what comes of the potential boycott.

  19. Trevor Says:

    Maybe I’m not as culturally hip as some people, but I really don’t see how Google offering censored search in China makes them “evil”. China is a big market and my guess is that there are people in China that don’t spend 100% of their time thinking - “I’m so oppressed, I really hate living here, I only want to search for links about Tibet and how it should be free.”

    What if someone in China just wants to search for some product information or a recipe or something else non-political?

    Wouldn’t a censored Google index be better than nothing at all? Google just wants to offer as much information to as many people as they can - if some information happens to get restricted by a Chinese Govt. censor along the way, is that really any of Google’s concern? If the Chinese people really want freedom and all the nice stuff that goes along with a democracy, eventually they will rise up and revolt. Right?

  20. OrangeSlice Says:

    I’m sure I came off as an asshole right there, but that wasn’t my intent. I too get angry about things, but it’s mostly when I perceive a bunch of people doing something stupid. On to my post, I have started an argument and I intend to finish it.

    First and foremost, China’s people do deserve human rights. Everyone does. I am not an advocate of censorship (quite the opposite actually,) so keep those sticks in their bags.

    China’s government, evil as it may be, does not guarantee human rights. Now, any one person or corporation can’t just waltz in and tell the government to bug off. The law over there says that such-and-such information can’t be viewed, and Google can’t do a damn thing about that. As many have stated–here and elsewhere–even if Google didn’t filter the search results, the actual pages (even Google itself in many cases) wouldn’t be accessible at all.

    You can’t point fingers at Google and denounce them for something that you know (and I know you know) isn’t even close to being their fault.

    Blame China, not Google.

  21. matrix Says:

    This is worth reading: The lesser of two evils? Hmm…

  22. Ben Says:

    I have to agree with Trevor. I can’t see what is so awful about this decision. It gives Chinese citizens a quicker, more reliable search site than is in China and if implemented correctly, should not do anything to restrict the web any more than China has already done. Sure, I think it would be great if the Chinese had the same access to the web that everyone else does, but Google doesn’t currently have the power to change that, China does. Boycotting China wouldn’t do anything to help the Chinese, as there are other search engines.

    Bloggers seem to be accusing Google of abandoning principles for cash, but I think that this is an incorrect image. True, there is a definite business interest in China for Google, and this move does act against some of their principles, but there is an important distinction between compromising when there is no other choice avaible and completely abandoning one’s principles. Yes, content-censoring does go against some of Google’s principles, but so does restricting the ability of web-users to access content. As you know, Google was ranked #1 in user satisfaction in China recently, so having it be better accessable is both a good thing for the Chinese people and Google’s pocketbook. Boycotting China would have yielded no good and thus would have been both a bad business move and more evil than censoring those sites that are censored by the Chinese anyway.

  23. Wouter Schut Says:

    Nathan, where is your head? Are you astroturfing?

  24. Nathan Weinberg Says:

    From Wikipedia:

    In American politics and advertising, the term astroturfing describes formal public relations projects which deliberately seek to engineer the impression of spontaneous, grassroots behavior. The goal is the appearance of independent public reaction to a politician, political group, product, service, event, etc., by centrally orchestrating the behavior of many diverse and geographically distributed individuals.

  25. JIm Heavey Says:

    “Do no evil” - Google has decided to help supress free speach in a country taht sorely needs it. Google is in bed with a goverment that has killed more people that the Nazis ever did.

    Google new Moto: “In blood up to our elbows & welove it!

Leave a Reply

Commenting? If there's a contest today, you might be entering to win something. Check it out.

- This blog has coComment integrated.