Google has been in the news a great deal lately over their decision to exit the Chinese market on the principle of free speech. Google, whose corporate motto is “Do No Evil”, has decided that the revenue benefits associated with a Chinese presence aren’t worth the silent stand against free speech made complicit by offering censored search results.
The Wall Street Journal is running a poll on whether or not Google is a company more motivated by principle or profit. While it is newsworthy and perhaps noble to suggest that a capitalist company is putting principle above profit, I’m not so sure there is a difference in this case.
While Google will certainly forgo an immaterial revenue stream today by exiting China and may curb its long term rate of growth, it should also be pointed out that censorship makes for lower quality search results since you may not always be providing the customer with the full range of results that they may be looking for. Google advertisers will not be served by the full potential benefit of meaningful keyword searches.
One could also argue that the Chinese government could favor domestic companies over international ones by simply censoring certain search results which would improve its own domestic growth agenda. By allowing for continued censorship in China, Google might be hurting some of its other customers.
We know too much fat is bad for one’s diet. If Ben & Jerry’s were required to remove fat from their ice cream as a condition for selling it in Ohio, I wouldn’t blame them for passing on the opportunity. Fat free ice cream just isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be and just might hurt the Ben & Jerry’s brand.
In the long run, I think Google’s profit incentive and its principles are in line with each other. Censorship hurts Google’s brand and makes it a lower return on investment product to its advertising base. To require a company to provide anything less than their very best is communist by nature.
At least in this case, profit and principle are one and the same. Bravo Google.