Security of Gmail accounts critical to Google in China

Published On:
Thursday, January 21, 2010
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Should ASU students feel safe with their Gmail accounts?

Yes ... no ... sort of? The security of students’ My ASU accounts depends on the security of Google.

Human-rights activists have reason to fear for their privacy, after hackers in China infiltrated their Gmail accounts. Google, assuming that the hackers were working for the government, announced on their corporate blog that they would stop censoring their search results on Google.cn, the Chinese search engine site.

According to Analysys International, Baidu.com is the leading search engine in China, controlling over 60 percent of the market, while Google remains a distant second.

Unlike Baidu, Google was not designed for the Mandarin language, which gives it less relevant results. It also doesn’t help their success that the government reprimanded Google for not censoring pornographic search results, a controversy that has been highly publicized in China.

If Google is only reaching a small portion of the market, what does the company have to gain from China? After all, China’s Happy Meal toys fall apart and their air stinks.

The only reason for staying in China is generic, but noble: fighting the good fight. Google is one of the leading advocates for free speech in the Internet era, and China is its biggest antagonist. There is one way for social change to permeate the Chinese government, and that is pressure from the outside.

Is it arrogant of Google to think that they can enter a country and change their laws? Yes, but it is also arrogant of the Chinese government to attempt to control all Internet search results.

It’s up to powerful businesses to economically sway the Chinese government toward opening up free information. (Free as in speech, not free as in T-shirts.)

To force the issue in China, Google needs to compete with Baidu, and they can do that while simultaneously appeasing their customers: by securing their Gmail accounts more effectively.

Andrew Leckey is a director of ASU’s “International Business Journalism: Chinese Perspective” study abroad trip.

Leckey said the situation presents Google with a few tough questions, including whether it is worth censoring some search results to reach the Chinese market, and whether it is realistic to expect change in the way Google’s efforts are received by the government.

My advice to Google is to stay in China. The company is concerned with its reputation among Western countries, which is why it may stop complying with stifling government censors. But it’s not going to change anything by pulling out of the country; the best way to promote the right to information is by sticking around, and if Google is able to gain popularity there, things might change.

So how can Google win over the people of China? There are numerous improvements that can be made to Google.cn, like speed and relevance, and one of them brings us back to our My ASU accounts. Tighten security, and we’ll all be happy.

Jack Fitzpatrick is worried about hackers on Gmail. Show your support at jlfitzpa@asu.edu.