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Ex-Google Employee Urges Lawmakers to Take on Company (nytimes.com)
778 points by subdane 5 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 352 comments



This "broad pattern of unaccountable decision making", also called permissionless innovation, is the reason why America has a culture of innovation. For those unaware, the United States runs on what I call "Air Bud rules", named for this scene from the children's movie.[0] To summarize, as long as there isn't a rule forbidding you from doing something, you can do it.

While I applaud his personal stance on refusing to work on a censored search engine, any solution that requires foregoing independent corporate decision making would be foolish. For those who have been tasked with building tools that support authoritarian regimes, grow a spine, make your voice heard, and quit if necessary. Don't give me any bullshit excuses for continuing, if you know it's wrong stop supporting it!

[0]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jvf0WWxrYRM


We don't even have to go back very far to find examples of American companies exploiting people to the point of knowingly killing them.[0]

> any solution that requires foregoing independent corporate decision making would be foolish

Whether you think less regulation or more regulation is better, you can't in good faith advocate for no regulation. Corporations have demonstrated many times over the years that they are profit maximizing algorithms with no regard for human life.

> For those who have been tasked with building tools that support authoritarian regimes, grow a spine, make your voice heard, and quit if necessary.

Once again, this makes very little sense in the context of history. Individual people are largely powerless when standing up to large organizations. Corporations do not self regulate and individuals cannot stop them. They are effectively a form of "very slow rogue AI" and the only way we seem to be able to control them, at least for a little while, is with central governments.

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radium_Girls


I made no such argument for no regulation. My argument is that we have a set of rules, and we should not interfere with decision making if rules have not been broken. If in response to some exploitation of the rules which you deem as unhealthy to society you may pass new rules to deal with that behavior. You can't just mess with someone because you don't like them.


I take issue with the spineless bit. If a corporation is undermining basic human rights that's a problem. You also can't expect exployees to stand up to a corporation because they may need the job desperately. There are certain things a government must do. I'd say protecting human rights is the role of government.


> You also can't expect exployees to stand up to a corporation because they may need the job desperately.

If an employee thinks their job security is more important than the human rights of the population of China then I personally have no problem with that. This is because we have a lot of evidence about how much the average employee values human rights and anybody who expects great things from them is going to be disappointed, so I don't.

But to say the government must be responsible for the moral aspects is profoundly irresponsible. "Just following orders" got a lot of Nazis hanged at Nuremberg. If an employee does something they have a personal moral responsibility. Maybe don't bring the law in because it is happening in a foreign country, but claiming that moral responsibility doesn't factor in because people like money is not how we want to run our values system.


That's a bit paradox, isn't it?

If the only allowed way to change the rules is in response to behavior you deem unhealthy to society, how can we should not interfere if the rules have not been broken?

And deeming something as being unhealthy to society is a sort of process of dislike in a subjective notion since there is no objective way for a society to be unhealthy.


Well we can talk about making a rule, and covering future cases but we don't have to castigate people for actions they took in the past where no such rule existed.


We can go back even less far to find examples of the US Federal Government doing arguably far worse:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuskegee_syphilis_experiment

There's this narrative that the major cause of improvement in conditions (civil rights, workers rights, child rights etc.) comes from government regulation. This is called legal prescriptivism. Another narrative is that things generally improve as the economy does, and are then codified into law. This is legal descriptivism.

Typically history moves forward with a mixture of both, but it should not be taken for granted that prescriptivism is always the only way progress happens, nor that prescriptive progress always positive.


I wonder if—as a culture—we're limiting ourselves by habitually thinking in terms of public government and private enterprise; as if we need to find new concepts for grouping together people trying to solve problems.

I know I'm not adding much to the discussion with such vague notions, but I'd like to crack this vagueness a little beyond binary options that I, too, seem to habitually trap myself within.


The existing regulatory framework waits for bad behavior to surface and then outlaws it specifically, which is fine. That’s a far cry from a regulatory framework designed to “rein in” corporations more generally, i.e. with regulatory review and approval steps for R&D allocation and product launches.


> This "broad pattern of unaccountable decision making", also called permissionless innovation

I'll take your permissionless innovation and raise you 8 million tons of plastic garbage going into the oceans every year[1], a depleted Ozone layer, black lung, asbestos, and unbreathable air. (Not to mention global warming--egad!) The problem is that industry "permissionlessly innovates" and because profitable innovations flourish in the marketplace, the system blindly scales bad ideas to global proportions, and only after we've accumulated massive debt do we try restrict their actions with feeble legislation which is roundly shouted down by deniers funded by the profits of those industries and poo-pooed by corrupt legislators beholden to their financiers.

You see why there might be some systemic problems with this default setting?

We need to jettison this idea that companies get to do whatever they want "because it's for the economy!" and only later do we reign them in when they've inevitably wrecked something that we only recognize is important in hindsight.

[1] Who knows, maybe some might come back with "oh it's those dirty trash monkeys in India and Indonesia who can't be good and put their garbage in a hole like we do". To that: yeah, the problem is we didn't innovate and scale the economy hard enough to save the planet. Right. Meanwhile, who thought it up? Who sold them all those damn coke bottles and chip bags?


Re [1] you have to give pg_bot that the argument was "why America has a culture of innovation"

and your counters are all basically non American. As to "8 million tons of plastic garbage going into the oceans every year[1], a depleted Ozone layer, black lung, asbestos, and unbreathable air. " America does rather well at getting rid of those, China is the biggest offender.

It works in America because they do pass laws to reduce that stuff, China could try harder.


woah woah.. America just left the Paris accords. China is still committed to them.

> As to "8 million tons of plastic garbage going into the oceans every year[1], a depleted Ozone layer, black lung, asbestos, and unbreathable air. " America does rather well at getting rid of those, China is the biggest offender.

America is terrible at getting rid of those. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_greenhous... USA is number 2 on that list. And worse, it's government is living in denial, with a president that's refuting climate change as a problem (and as mentioned earlier, has withdrawn the US as a signatory to the Paris agreement).

And this tells just part of the story. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_carbon_di... That's the list of countries by CO2 emissions on a per capita basis. Among the large economies of the world, the US is the first on that list and also way, way, way, ahead of China.

Again, this is just part of the story. We can't ignore historical figures for greenhouse gas emissions. China has only recently (since after the 1960s) become industrialized. It became a significant contributor to CO2 emissions only after about 1980, and even then it was way behind other countries. (way behind the US too). It's only recently, since about 2010, that China has overtaken USA as the largest emitter of CO2 and other green house gases. Even then, on a per capita basis, it's way behind the USA.

And you say "America does rather well at getting rid of those, China is the biggest offender." That statement is so factually incorrect it verges on being ludicrous.

Get your facts straight, and then when it comes time for another election, vote for the senator, congressman or president that considers climate change a serious issue and has an agenda of fixing the US contributions to CO2 and other green house gas emissions.


The [1] list doesn't include CO2. It's a different kind of problem.


> the United States runs on what I call "Air Bud rules"

also known as common law. and most ex-UK colonies have it(USA/Canada/India/Australia/New Zealand/UK & more)

What have the "big" SV companies in common?

Exploiting customer data more than ever before with weak US lawmakers unwilling to challenge them or press for stronger user protections. Including adapting or enforcing rules more suitable for the internet age.

FB/Instagram/LinkedIn and other social media companies rely on inducing addictive behaviour in their users so as to sell more ads. That's it. All bullshit about connections and making the world a better place.. It's hollow. Gamification of users so as to sell more ads.


Your "permissionless innovation" is obliterating the well-being of the average American citizen (and others too).

At-will contracts, the gig economy, force arbitration, the privacy free-for-all, union busting, zero-hour contracts, privatised law enforcement, privatised medical care and all the other innovations created by US corporations.

And your proposed solution is absurd, by the way, and this can be easily demonstrated by the fact that few awful organisations had trouble finding qualified personnel.


> This "broad pattern of unaccountable decision making", also called permissionless innovation, is the reason why America has a culture of innovation.

I've seen that theory, but my understanding is that striking a proper balance is what fosters innovation; anarchy yields corruption and spoils for the powerful; it does not reward the most productive and innovative. Also, my impression is that other things may be much more important for innovation, especially opportunity for education, for capital, and for access to the market (e.g., rules that prevent vested interests from blocking newcomers from the marketplace).

> any solution that requires foregoing independent corporate decision making would be foolish

Should we abolish all laws and regulations about safety, fraud, and fairness? Personally, I don't see corporations as having such a great track record that I trust them so implicitly.


I'm not advocating for anarchy, just that we stick to the laws that are actually codified. We should be reactive to bad behavior, not proactive. Instead of blanket calls for regulation, we should be specific and considerate when making new rules as they often have unintended consequences. Instead of having to constantly ask for permission, you should be able to read the rules and make decisions independently. You don't hear about the millions of interactions that occur daily without consequence so I believe your views on corporations may be biased.


> We should be reactive to bad behavior, not proactive.

The ex-Google employee is calling on Congress to be reactive to Google's activities. Do you agree then with their proposal?

I actually don't agree; bad behavior hurts people and that harm should be prevented if reasonably possible. For example, we should be proactive about airplane safety. We should have been proactive about regulating the securitization of mortgates - that would have saved maybe billions of people from harm, many losing their homes, jobs, and savings.

Of course, anything can be taken too far ...

> Instead of blanket calls for regulation, we should be specific and considerate when making new rules

I don't think anyone would disagree, but am I overlooking someone?

In fairness, you earlier wrote the following, which seems like a much broader, stronger statement:

> any solution that requires foregoing independent corporate decision making would be foolish


we should be specific and considerate when making new rules as they often have unintended consequences

Shouldn't we be equally specific and considerate when developing/deploying new technology?


> Don't give me any bullshit excuses for continuing

Then don't act as if this is sufficient reasoning. Any one of these people or the entire department could quit, and you and I both know it would be re-staffed inside of a month.

> named for this scene from the children's movie.

Which should be a strong hint as to it's merit in the real-world. You shouldn't have to look very deeply into our society to see where the problems of this mentality lay; in fact, whole other works of fiction and non-fiction alike have been created just to highlight this precise fact.


If you knowingly engage or are an accessory to bad behavior, you are a bad person. Another person potentially replacing you does not absolve you of your actions. This defense didn't work in Nuremberg, and it won't work with me.

A concept so simple that a child could understand it is fundamentally sound.


> This defense didn't work in Nuremberg, and it won't work with me.

Great. Unfortunately you're not the emperor of the United States and people will continue to take jobs that harm society. Seeing what happened to the Nazis tried in Nuremberg did exactly nothing to stop the same thing from happening in Indonesia, Rwanda, and other post-WWII mass killings. This is because people who do these things, don't actually think they're doing bad things.

For example, in your original comment you're justifying a system where exploitation of labor, violation of privacy rights, and support for despotic regimes are permitted because it promotes a culture of innovation. By your standard I should hold you accountable for helping whitewash these practices by making them the responsibility of individual employees - who have little real power to influence their employer's decisions. However, you clearly don't see yourself as culpable because you're defending what you believe is a higher goal: innovation.

Now consider that the people who choose to continue to work on these projects feel exactly the same way you do, except they justify their behaviour by some other ends: perhaps they need to support a family, or care for an elderly relative, or they're just demonstrating the idea of "permissionless innovation" with their own employment choices. And why not? What's good for the goose is good for the gander.

> Don't give me any bullshit excuses for continuing, if you know it's wrong stop supporting it!

Perhaps you should apply this to your own opinions before suggesting others apply it to their lives.


Wait.. hold on for a second.. and think about the following points.

1. Campaigns cost a lot of money.

2. Private organizations fund political campaigns.

3. A legislator's constitutional job is to maintain an effective set of rules for a country/state/city whatever.

4. Is the democratic process effective in voting in the best legislators?

4.a. or is the democratic process the best at voting in the best fund raisers?

5. With the massive amounts of private capital, are the best innovators, engineers and builders succeeding or are the best fund raisers succeeding?

6. Is private capital largely responsible for the success of new companies (ventures) as well as aspiring legislators?

Well, not everything is so black and white as those points, but looking at one extreme perspective, does raise many concerns in my mind. The primary one being, "is democracy reaching it's breaking point?"


This is like appealing for ethics after the river is polluted, wondering why none of the people involved didn't protest earlier, and worse hoping that individual protest now will somehow fix the problem while the pollution continues unabated.

The only reason someone is not building a nuclear plant in your neighborhood or polluting rivers and poisoning your kids is regulations. The idea that this 'dampens innovation' is an extremely narrow view of 'innovation' without context of consequences.

Building surveillance infrastructure is unethical and pollutes the commons and democracy, every educated person knows this, yet hundreds of thousands of 6 figure earning engineers did it anyway. These are the same old problems of commons that have been solved by human societies with governance, rule of law and democracy.

The 'repositioning' of government and rules and regulations as a 'constraint' is fundamentally anti rule of law. Governments is 'you' in a democracy. Constraints and laws exists for businesses but also individuals, how will lifting constraints lead to a civilized society?

This promotes an unstable society that regresses to barbarism by those who want all the benefits of civilized society in terms of stability, peace, education, science and markets but do not want to think how this comes to be.


I actually applaud Poulson for leaving Google in protest of Google's Chinese business practices.

Having mentioned that, I think I have to part ways with him when he implies that the correct way to "fix" this is to have the government come in and make these sorts of business decisions for the company. I don't believe in the government obliging businesses to do things. Especially when it looks like this whole thing is Google specific. That's unfair to Google.

What about all the other American companies doing business in China? Do they get to keep doing business because they are politically popular companies but Google is not? Or would this be a government mandate of a broad based American pull out?

Or just forcing Google to let its employees have a say in how it's run? (But again, you gonna force every company? Or just Google?)

Etc etc etc.

Once government gets involved and starts playing favorites, everything gets messed up.


What exactly do you think he's advocating? In the letter his specific ask is for fact-finding, probably using the Senate's subpoena power ("I humbly ask that The Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation call on Google’s representative for the hearing, Mr. Keith Enright, to respond to the sincere and credible concerns of the coalition of 14 human rights organizations who drafted an August 28th Open Letter To Google. I also ask the committee to inquire about how Google is meeting its commitments to privacy under its own AI Principles and the Global Network Initiative, of which Google is a member.")

His long-term goals seem to be industry-wide ("I would hope that The Committee would help protect the environment needed for future whistleblowers by taking steps to guarantee ethical transparency and oversight across Silicon Valley").

I think you're reading into this something you fear, but that is not even on the table.


Saying "I don't believe in the government obliging businesses to do things." seems to me akin to not believing in gravity.

The government - including the US government - is obliging all companies operating on its territory to do certain things. That's one of the roles of government.


Saying "I don't believe in the government obliging businesses to do things." seems to me akin to not believing in gravity.

Believing in gravity doesn't mean that you then need to gain as much weight as possible. In fact, taking into account science like that, you might want to lose a certain amount of weight for your health.

"The government obliging businesses to do things," is necessary, like carbohydrates are necessary. That said, you don't want too much of something.


The USG is doing too little of something. Namely of protecting citizens from predatory businesses.


The banking reform laws that were billed as curbing the big banks turned out to have been gamed by those banks to give them a huge advantage in home mortgages, driving out the community banks.

Given what lobbying and regulatory capture is like, more government seems as likely to increase the predatory nature of businesses.


> carbohydrates

Are you doing that on purpose?

I don't know if the keto diet is healthy, but making a statement like that is.. pretty much guranteed to step on somebody's toes.


I don't know if the keto diet is healthy, but making a statement like that is.. pretty much guranteed to step on somebody's toes.

Even if you don't consume any carbohydrates, your body will produce some to continue its processes. So it will step on someone's toes only if they're science ignorant.

EDIT: Carbohydrates are used throughout your body. One example: as receptors on your cell membranes. The guff about "ketones are not carbs" below is a great example of how, "it will step on someone's toes only if they're science ignorant."


I think the comment you're replying to meant more that they should be obliging businesses to do things but not specific businesses.

E.g. make laws that apply to all companies as opposed to picking on one company or another.

So I think you're actually agreeing since gravity applies to all things vs arbitrarily deciding which things to pull down.


Bills of attainder (laws that target a specific person or group of people) have always been unconstitutional. The are explicitly prohibited federally in Article 1, Section 9:

    No Bill of Attainder ... shall be passed.
States are explicitly prohibited in Section 10:

    No State shall ... pass any Bill of Attainder ...
Any legislation that specifically targets Google would be quickly overturned by the court.


A Bill of Attainder is much narrow than any legislation that targets a particular actor; this is a case where the specific details matter a lot (as does the mood of the Supreme Court, whose tests on this issue have evolved over time in shifting directions.)


> not believing in gravity

That metaphor holds if he doesn't believe that the US government has ever obliged a business to do anything; it's objectively true that the USG exists and asserts power over many businesses. But "believe in" there is pretty obviously a claim about desirability, and I think a lot of people don't believe gravity has intrinsic moral value.

Actually, I like this metaphor. Gravity isn't intrinsically moral, but from a human perspective there are certainly right and wrong values. Deimos, where you can accidentally jump into orbit, has too little. Jupiter, where hydrogen is crushed into a metal, has too much. So now we're back to quibbling over the desirable amount of an amoral force, and comparisons to physics haven't changed the situation.


Last time I checked China doesn't fall under US law. This is an international company. They can do what ever they want for a site in China. I don't agree with it but I do agree that the company can do it if they want.


This is probably true if it's a Google subsidiary doing it. But there are a lot of caveats here. Presumably US based Google employees are included in this Chinese search engine project, so there should be some legal way for the US government to involve itself if it wanted to.

Not saying they should, just that a law could be written, if I've doesn't already exist, that would make it problematic.


>if I've doesn't already exist, that would make it problematic.

This is not coherent English, and I think all HNers would appreciate it if you proof-read your comments. The internet has become a complete incoherent sesspool, and I hope we can prevent the same from happening here.

It seemed like you might be making a sound (if wrong, IMO) point.


> I don't believe in the government obliging businesses to do things.

Yea, but I'm a big fan of regulated food, clean water and pollution standards. Upholding your obligations is a requirement to receiving the protection of the government as you conduct your business. It's a two-way street.

> Especially when it looks like this whole thing is Google specific.

The better question is whether Google is acting as a monopoly in the regulated domain or not, if they are -- then this isn't a relevant factor.

> What about all the other American companies doing business in China?

We'll get to them eventually.. but why shouldn't we go after the biggest business first? Wouldn't that provide the greatest reduction in harm?

> Or would this be a government mandate of a broad based American pull out?

There are already plenty of laws which make transacting business in China more difficult for US based companies. It's not as if it's laissez faire except for Alphabet Inc.

> Once government gets involved and starts playing favorites

I don't disagree, but you haven't made a sufficient case that "favorites" are being played or that other factors aren't more prevalent.


> > What about all the other American companies doing business in China?

> We'll get to them eventually.. but why shouldn't we go after the biggest business first? Wouldn't that provide the greatest reduction in harm?

There's actually a name for laws that target one individual while ignoring others guilty of the same behavior, and that's a "bill of attainder" [0]. They're banned by the US Constitution and also every state constitution, which might give you some idea that there are pretty good reasons "why not" (namely, that they're ripe for abuse, they violate someone's right to due process, and can be used by the legislature to take on judicial or executive functions, violating the separation of powers).

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_of_attainder


What's being suggested here isn't even kind of similar to a bill of attainder, not even if you really squint. This is like saying, "You can't prosecute me for theft before you prosecute this other thief, because that's a bill of attainder." No court would entertain that argument.


There is no law against what Google is doing. This is nothing like the theft argument.


But the comment I responded to didn't say that, so I don't know why you'd expect the comparison to address that. The comment said that failing to go after everyone at the same time as Google violates the prohibition on bills of attainder.

"It's a bill of attainder if you go after Google for violating people's privacy unless you simultaneously — not later, but simultaneously — go after everyone for violating people's privacy" is exactly the same as "It's a bill of attainder if you go after me for X unless you simultaneously — not later, but simultaneously — go after everyone for X."

Whether or not you think they should be able to go after anyone for what Google is doing is a different question, but it's definitely not a bill of attainder to go after one party before others, which was the thing that was called a bill of attainder here ("We'll get to them eventually.. but why shouldn't we go after the biggest business first?").


Why would a law against what Google is doing be subject to bill of attainder? Wouldn't bill of attainder only apply if the law specifically mentioned Google?


These standards don't only apply to Google, though. They can be applied to anyone, which makes your comparison bills of attainder seem kind of odd.


What standards are you referring to? There are no US standards or laws against what Google is proposing.


Ethical standards.


Why would Google help another govt censor their own citizens?

To curry favor, some kind of quid pro quo. Aka a bribe.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foreign_Corrupt_Practices_Act


> I'm a big fan of regulated food, clean water and pollution standards.

You're comparing food and water to how a company does business in another country. These two things couldn't be more different. Does the US government also manage food and water in China?

> The better question is whether Google is acting as a monopoly

That's an entirely different question. The letter seemed to target the china problem directly, which is more about censorship than monopoly. If anything, monopoly is just being used as an excuse here.

> but why shouldn't we go after the biggest business first?

Isn't Apple bigger by most metrics?

> you haven't made a sufficient case that "favorites" are being played

I think the point is, if favorites aren't being played now, this sort of move incentives companies to suck up even more to lawmakers. If Google gets screwed for doing business in China while thousands of other companies get away with it, what kind of incentive does that show?


>You're comparing food and water to how a company does business in another country. These two things couldn't be more different.

How a company does business "in another country" reflects back on its own country (and can even have repercussions beyond image).

Google is always free to relocate their headquarters to another country and quit receiving the drawbacks of being a US company of course (along with any benefits that come with them)...

>If Google gets screwed for doing business in China while thousands of other companies get away with it, what kind of incentive does that show?

For one it shows that "doing business in China" is not a single, concrete thing, but there are tons of ways to do "business in China", some harmful and some not, and that might even depend on the industry.

E.g. selling Cokes to China: no big deal. Selling arms to China: might need some scrutiny. Selling Search technology to China catered to assist censorship: ditto.

So, the right question is not "why single out Google while other companies also do business with China", but rather "are these other companies in the SAME kind of business with China?".

And I'm not even against Google working in China, or following their local laws. Just want to point out obvious argument flaws.


> Does the US government also manage food and water in China?

No, but the US certainly does regulate how companies can act in other countries, e.g. the FCPA.

> If Google gets screwed for doing business in China while thousands of other companies get away with it, what kind of incentive does that show?

It shows that the government believes some principles should be above making a quick buck.


> It shows that the government believes some principles should be above making a quick buck.

It shows that congress believes cheap PR for them is above somebody else making a quick buck.


I think the are two kinds of regulations. There is the kind that is written down clearly. I can read it; understand what I'm supposed to do and not do and act accordingly and be done with it. There is also the other kind where I need to hire an expert to interpret the regulation and then file an application with the government and if it gets rejected after a long time I have no recourse but to go back to the same agency again. Obviously the first kind of good and the second kind should be avoided. This seems more like the second kind. Maybe we could make it the first somehow?


>Yea, but I'm a big fan of regulated food, clean water and pollution standards.

Completely irrelevant. There are no US laws against private companies building censorship tools in the US, let alone in China.


Not yet. Maybe there should be. ;)

With Google, it seems pretty fair to consider them a Monopoly in several areas. They also appear to be well down the path to abusing their Monopoly(ies?).

Isn't that generally where regulators should become involved?


The point I think a few are trying to make is that the censorship in China issue is completely unrelated and irrelevant with respect to the monopoly issue.

You want to break them up with anti-trust because they're a monopoly? Sure. Go ahead and investigate and figure that out.

You want to ... punish/regulate/? them because they do business in China? You may not like it, but I don't see under what regulation or law you can do that?

The best analogy is US companies that contract with sweatshops. There's actually not a lot I'm aware of that can be done in the US court system, outside of utilizing trade treaties that require adherence to certain labor regulations.


>under what regulation or law you can do that?

this question is answered in the parent post to:

>>>There are no US laws against private companies building censorship tools in the US, let alone in China

>>Not yet. Maybe there should be [a new law -- DenisM]. ;)

If the problem is deemed severe a new law could be made that restricts participation in "oppressive activities", however they are defined. This would be similar to "trading with the enemy" act [1], or to COCOM [2], or to terrorism-related financial restrictions, or to Iran / N Korea / Russia sanctions.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trading_with_the_Enemy_Act_of_...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coordinating_Committee_for_Mul...


Many people in the US government actively want censorship tools to be created to police copyright infringements. From a software perspective, at least, it's basically the same thing: slurp up all the media and remove ones that aren't allowed under the ruleset.


It appears changing that may be under discussion. If so, great!

Let us all discuss.


>We'll get to them eventually.. but why shouldn't we go after the biggest business first? Wouldn't that provide the greatest reduction in harm?

You do realize that Google doesn't do search business in China, right?


> Once government gets involved and starts playing favorites, everything gets messed up.

OK.

Is it more or less messed up than that a private corporation can and is willing to perform surveillance on foreign citizens on behalf of those citizens' government that would be unacceptable anywhere else?


A company complying with the laws of the country it does business in seems fairly uncontroversial to me, even if you may not agree with those laws.

Do you want your companies to be extensions of US foreign policy?


Ah right, "following the laws", because discussions of morality can be reduced to whether it "follows the law" or not? No, that's absurd. Google is objectively abetting an authoritarian regime and providing it with extremely useful tools to maintain and strengthen totalitarian control over 1.4 billion people, and this is wrong.


I'm not going to defend what Google is doing. Having said that you should be very careful when asking corporations to enforce any kind of morality.

The electorate defines our morality through government. Companies should play no part in this definition outside of the rights of their employees as private citizens.

You should also be very careful when imposing your own personal views on people living in an entirely different country. Our (western) moral superiority is something we have justified to ourselves many times and it has rarely worked out in our favor.


+1

It's not Google's job to go to every government in the world and tell them how they should run their country.


Globalism is messy.

The west, particularly the US made a policy decision years ago that engaging with China commercially would yield benefits to China, the US, and the world. Arguably that was correct, although the predictions that making money would create a democratic society proved to be inaccurate.

If you wear men's undershirts, you're objectively abetting an authoritarian regime that allows companies in Bangladesh to systematically abuse textile workers. Is that ok?

At the end of the day, the Chinese have nukes and will do whatever they want to do. Why should Google suffer, when nothing is preventing Chinese services from launching in the US and competing with their properties?


" Why should Google suffer"

1. I reject any notion that Google is somehow "suffering" if they don't go into China.

2. You're making it seem like Google is entitled to all the business it wants. That's not true in the least.


    2. You're making it seem like Google is entitled to all the business it wants. That's not true in the least. 
Why not?


Because it is an American corporation, for starters. Corporations are artificial entities that are established by governments - they don't exist "naturally", and thus have no natural rights whatsoever. They only have such privileges as the society deems to bestow on them when it creates them, and those privileges can and do come with obligations.

So, if we as a society decide that American companies shall not aid and abet human rights violations elsewhere in the world, then that's what they do. Or else they can dissolve and go incorporate in China or wherever.


    So, if we as a society decide that American companies shall not aid and abet human rights violations elsewhere in the world, then that's what they do.
Ah, I didn't realise we were discussing "entitled" from an American legal perspective. In that case, you're correct.

Imo, however, restricting globalism just makes markets less efficient. Thus hurts everyone, regardless of the moral questions in any specific circumstance.


'Why not?' is never the right question to ask. The onus is on you to support a claim, you cannot demand of the other person to prove a negative.


Didn't they propose that "Google is not entitled to all the business it wants" without justification? I'm prodding for them to support the claim, because (as you said) the onus is on them.


Look, my biases are much more in favor of the US govt than of China's, for all the obvious reasons. But we have to be able to see that this is opening a huge can of worms. For example, I think it's pretty troubling that the French government banned a bunch of Muslim religious garments. Does that mean I should advocate that various US companies need to stop doing business with France? Clearly there's _some_ level of abuse that would be too much. But I think setting objectively standards about these things is extremely difficult.


> For example, I think it's pretty troubling that the French government banned a bunch of Muslim religious garments.

You're either misinformed on the French legislation or, less charitably, willfully misrepresenting it. The legislation [1] passed by the French government was a ban on face coverings in public spaces. It included covering the face with balaclavas, full face helmets, masks and yes, full face veils such as the niqāb.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_ban_on_face_covering


I promise you that I reread that article before I commented about it, and we can all plainly see that 1% of the discussion is about balaclavas and 99% of it is about the effect of the law on Muslims. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_law_on_secularity_and_c... is also relevant.

To be fair, maybe the article is that way because it was written by non-Frenchmen with non-French sensibilities. I understand that French attitudes about religion and assimilation are different from American ones, and that I'm missing all sorts of other context besides. My "oh deary me how troubling" reaction probably isn't worth very much, and in any case my broader point is that I'm not advocating jumping to conclusions or boycotting France or whatever else.

But at the same time, if you want to call it "misinformed" to worry about the law's effect on religious minorities, that comes across as pretty one-sided in its own right.


Almost all countries has categories of clothing which is considered decent and proper based on culture and norms. The French law want extend which specific items should be excluded, while those opposing it want to include specific items. However it is not politically right to saying you want to exclude or include specific items in the set of decent and proper clothing, so what we get is one group making general laws that forbids "types" of clothing while having a disproportional effect that focus specific clothes, while the other side argues for general rights (religious or otherwise) but which never will be implemented in ways that actually removes the distinction between decent and proper, and indecent and improper clothing.


Sure, but the entire reason that it was created was to target religious garb.

All the other stuff has zero relation to why it was created in the first place.

It would be like banning cross-shaped necklaces, and trying to pretend that this isn't targeting Christianity, because it technically targets all cross shaped necklaces and not just religious ones.


yes as we all know, ideas carry moral taint in the karmic dimension if they are not conceived in perfect current year purity according to the book of tumblr


If those companies were making special tools to identify and remove said garments, then yes.


That sounds like a hard line to draw. A tool that makes it easier to look at lots of footage, which happens to get used for garment enforcement, is that a "garment related tool"? How do we factor in the French government's intention to build its own garment related tools on top of a camera's general purpose interfaces? What if the camera company itself is in France, but it's _suppliers_ are in the US?

My goal here isn't just to be annoying and nitpicky. It's to try to make it clear that there are a million different questions interacting here.


Hmm, what's worse, a single populist regulation, punishable by a moderate fine or total information control? Very hard to draw a line indeed...


I think you just put words in my mouth, which is difficult to respond to on the internet. Of course I agree with you about which is worse. Have you thought about how I can both agree with you and also believe that drawing the line is hard?


Well, my point (which I tried to do sarcastically, admitted) was that I disagree that it's hard to draw a line here:

One is a regulation with restricted scope and consequences in a system that otherwise has human rights and individual freedom as core values. (Which doesn't make the regulation itself any good)

The other is a system with control of individual knowledge at its root and then developing regulations to further that goal as needed.

So, actually, yes, I have thought about it and no, I don't think you can.


> A tool that makes it easier to look at lots of footage, which happens to get used for garment enforcement, is that a "garment related tool"?

By itself, no.

If you're making it specifically for the government that has stated that it intends to use it in that manner, or if, based on their past actions, a reasonable person with the same amount of knowledge as you would deduce that it will be used that way, then yes.

> What if the camera company itself is in France, but it's _suppliers_ are in the US?

Same thing. If suppliers didn't know, they're not responsible (but once we told them, they know, and from there on they'll be judged accordingly). If they did know, or reasonably believed, then they're complicit.

> My goal here isn't just to be annoying and nitpicky. It's to try to make it clear that there are a million different questions interacting here.

There is, but this isn't really any different from law in general. Governing the behavior of people is always going to be nitpicky; that's why we have centuries of experience with law and its application. Most of these issues have been tackled there, and while they're not resolved to perfection, they are resolved.


I applaud France's action here. Should have done it earlier. These women are often forced to wear such garments or face severe retribution from their fundamentalist communities. Making it illegal allows them a similar loophole that a US law not permitting US companies to implement surveillance programs would allow US companies. It takes the option off the table without inciting retribution against the women or the companies.


That's sad that liberals consistently condemn christian fundamentalism but never fail to coddle Muslim fundamentalism out of some misguided liberal virtue signalling. Muslim women had it much better 40 years ago. Why are liberals so quick to side with their oppressors?

https://www.cnn.com/2014/06/05/asia/gallery/afghan-women-pas...


You got a point there, but then banning niqabs puts the women between a rock and a hard place too.


No, it removes them from one, since the decision is made by the state, not by hubby and brother. Also, appeasement is not the answer. This fundamentalist backslide that has occurred over the last 40 years must be confronted, not encouraged. Liberals of the future will look back at how liberals of today are embracing this oppression with horror and disgust.


Objectively, Google is extending its services to a billion people while maintaining the status quo of censorship. Stopping Google from expanding to China is basically another form of censorship, which is wrong.


It amplifies censorship and creates and provides the tools for censorship, which tools will become available as a (hidden) switch everywhere else, including here.


It’s not obviously wrong, nor is it objectively the same product since the censorship and surveillance makes it very different. It makes it a tool of control.

Governments routinely regulate exports as matter of policy. Lockheed would very much like to sell Taiwan (or really anyone and everyone) F-35s, but as a matter of government policy, it’s not allowed to, as it runs counter to the policies of the American government. This maybe censorship in a broad sense, but it certainly doesn’t make it prima facie wrong.


Corporations aren't people and regulation isn't censorship.


taking initiative to participate in maintaining a malicious status quo is being malicious. google isn't being coerced here, they're volunteering to help with oppression.

put differently:

what do you call an accountant who sings up to perpetuate the status quo of a criminal enterprise by updating their books?

guilty.

but they were "just extending the services of accounting to a new organization while maintaining the status quo of criminality".


US and Canada sell weapons and military equipment to Saudi Arabia. Sufficient moral outrage is hardly bandied about in the case of such deals.


actually there is an abundance of moral outrage with regard to these deals. it doesn't make the press. i'll give you one guess why.


If another country wanted to sanction US for this reason, I'd be supportive of that, as an American resident.


> what do you call an accountant who sings up to perpetuate the status quo of a criminal enterprise by updating their books?

The difference is that the accountant is necessary for the criminal enterprise. Google isn't necessary for a censorship state, since China more than capable of handling that on their own. A closer analogy is that Google is the line cook of the restaurant the mafia hangs out in.


These are also common arguments against country-level sanctions as well. People have differing opinions on the subject, but that something helps both the people and the regime doesn't always mean taking the good with the bad is worth it. I agree that both Google cooperating w/ China is wrong and that government interference to prevent it is wrong.


Not everyone thinks authoritarianism is morally wrong. They already abet plenty of other things that some people find morally wrong, like enforcing IP law, censoring all kinds of information, cooperating with police investigations, etc, some of which you can already spin as authoritarian.


>"Not everyone thinks authoritarianism is morally wrong"

The people who don't find authoritarianism morally wrong are generally elites who enjoy privilege on account of their being ranking members of that authoritarian regime.

Can you provide any examples of a 21st century authoritarian regimes where this hasn't been true? Mugabe? Bouteflika? Quaddafi? Assad? I don't think so.


Rodrigo Duterte.

Strongmen often enjoy broad popular support. They get things done. Mussolini made the trains run on time.

A cult of personality is how an authoritarian leader defends themselves from being overthrown by other members of their regime. They ensure that they are associated with all the good that their government does, while deflecting blame for the bad towards scapegoats.

Worrying about fairness or the rule of law is a luxury. A lot of people just see a weak and ineffectual government replaced with one that actually does something for them and they don't care how it was achieved.

I wish you were right. It would be much easier to defend against authoritarians if they were unpopular.


Duterte was democratically elected. He will be stepping down in 2022 and has already been voicing his support for Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

>"Strongmen often enjoy broad popular support."

"Strongman" is not even a real political term its a media term invented in the US media and first applied to General Noriega of Panama. The term doesn't even necessarily apply to official the head of state as was the case with Noriega.

>"Mussolini made the trains run on time."

No this is not actually true. See:

https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/loco-motive/

And my question was regarding authoritarian regimes of the 21st century. The rise of Mussolini was very much tied the consequences of World War 1 on Italy.


> Duterte was democratically elected.

Yes. That's why I mentioned him. He is a legitimately popular politician with a strong authoritarian streak.

If I wanted to give you other examples of authoritarians, I would have suggested Hugo Chavez, Vladimir Putin, and Recep Tayyip Erdogan. They've all had their ups and downs in popularity, but mostly based on economic conditions.

China would have been the most relevant example to use, but it's more difficult to prove popularity without elections. Still, both official approval ratings[1] and anecdotal discussions[2] suggest that the government is particularly popular among those in rural areas who have seen rapid modernization.

[1]: https://www.economist.com/china/2015/04/11/the-critical-mass... [2]: https://www.quora.com/In-general-how-popular-are-the-Communi...


Examples of what not being true? You jumped from "people" to "regimes" between paragraphs but the transition wasn't complete.

If you are looking for examples of people who aren't part of an authoritarian regime but still think it's not a fundamentally immoral system, just take myself. If you are looking for authoritarian regimes that satisfy some quality, I can't tell what quality you're referring to.


Because government making decision based on morality is slippery slope as morality is very subjective and varies with people, race and religion. Also is not Republican the party which advocates small government?


It's worth mentioning that "slippery slope" was originally meant as a fallacy, i. e. the invalid argument that something good is nonetheless bad when extrapolating to some extreme version of it.

It's easiest to see how useless the "slippery slope" concept is when noticing that it can be applied to absolute everything:

"if I start by feeding my own kids, I will soon have every needy kid at my door, asking for food"

"If we start to expect politicians not to be murders, a parking ticket will soon be disqualifying"

etc. etc.

Specifically here: government makes decisions based on morality all the time. I'd argue every single decision by the executive, legislative, and judicial branch is based on morality. It's obvious for the criminal justice system. For everything else, like deciding between different uses of tax money (aircraft carrier or social housing), making decisions requires some sort of function to optimize, and that function can ultimately only rest on morality.


Notions like "free speech is good" are themselves based on morality, and highly subjective. Yet we have them written not just into laws, but into our very Constitution.


We force corporations to do things all the time. Like the US is at a serious disadvantage in countries which use bribery to make corporate decisions, allow slave labor, or murder to coerce uncooperative locals. Conservatives are fine with this level of coercion, aka the rule of law.


Conservatism is about small government and while Republicans and conservatives overlap, they aren’t the same thing. It’s kind of how Socialists tend to vote Democrat, but that doesn’t mean that Democrats act consistently with socialism.

But I agree, government forcing a company to do something isn’t particularly in line with Republican ideas and it’s hypocritical in the context of limited government.


What do you think Google or any other company should do when it is handed national security letters in the USA?


So if Google wanted to be in big in Saudi-Arabia, and would have to comply with a law that mandates it must enable the Saudi law enforcement to look through their data for instances of "homosexuality and related activity" so that the perpetrators can be prosecuted and tortured and/or put to death, that's OK too, right? Because Google would be complying with the laws of the country, after all.

Make no mistake, with all the stuff going on in China (political imprisonment, "Social Credits"), it is almost certain that if Google was to share data with the Chinese government it will lead to human rights abuses, ruined lives, imprisonment and maybe even death penalties, not because somebody is a hardened criminal, but merely because they (unknowingly) googled the wrong things.


Do you want your companies to be extensions of US foreign policy?

Do you want your search engine company to be an extension of Chinese policy?


It is one thing to apply broad sanctions and tariffs on a company, forcing them to be an extension of national policy. It is another to expect (and perhaps enforce) that a product/company whose service is the exploration of knowledge stays consistent with a fundamental principle of Western human rights, which is the freedom of thought and speech.

There is a line somewhere. Where it is, is debatable.


Actually, YES, to the extent that the foreign policy is supporting & maintaining institutions & policies necessary for continued open democratic societies.

By virtue of the US' historically strong support for open democracies (albeit often flawed or failed), and historical accident, it essentially now falls to the US to attempt to maintain it around the world.

To the extent that we have failed to maintain and support democratic institutions and traditions around the world, they are lost.

To the extent that these free, open, democratic governments, institutions, and traditions are lost around the world, those remaining in free societies will find ourselves under threat of losing those societies.

So, yes, if a company wants to enjoy the fruits of being able to grow and prosper in the greatest open society and largest economy on the planet at this time, it is not too much to ask it to avoid supporting adversaries who would undermine our society and economy at the first opportunity (and are actively doing so right now).

[recommend reading Garry Kasparov's "Winter is Coming" & other titles -- Fmr World Chess Champion, Russian Presidential candidate, author -- he's been there, done that, and buried his friends doing so]


Given that many first world nations now avoid the US for data storage due to surveillance overreach, your statement comes across as rather ironic. As a Canadian, the US is definitely not the pinnacle of open democratic government. Your view of the US is a very US centric view.

There is certainly a line somewhere, selling weapons for example is a pretty clear one. But this line hasn't been established on the data side, and I don't think the US is in a very good position to establish it given its poor track record in this area. But to the extent this line is written, it should be a law applying to all US companies, not cherry picking Google or other politically unfavourable companies.


With the amount of Chinese products being used in US and US support of countries who have violated human rights, your statement sounds hypocritical. US has interests and behaves to protect it, there is no morality in those decisions.


It would be if I supported it, but I am extremely against it (& yes, I did ack that US has been inconsistent/failed and was referring to supporting some anti-rights regimes).

The extensive use of Chinese products by the US will likely turn out to be a great geostrategic blunder of historic magnitude.

While the US companies and govt thinks they're exploiting cheap Chinese labor, China is strategically exploiting our myopic weakness for short-term profits to steal IP and gain global economic & military power.


I'm all for the US government supporting open democracy through foreign policy. The US electorate influences this policy.

I don't want Google making decisions based on anything other than how to make money legally.


Then you are essentially demanding either that Google: 1) actively support anti-democratic, anti-human rights activities to the extent that they're willing to pay, or

2) that the USGovt simply ban them from doing biz in those countries, or

3) that the USGovt ban doing biz of a certain type, with likely arguments around the edges of that type.

4) or something else that I'm missing.

Which are you proposing?


I am proposing 2 (assuming it applies to all business) if we as a country actually have a problem with the Chinese government's treatment of their citizens. As far as I can tell we don't have a problem with it so we continue doing business with them.


I'd agree with #2 just fine.

I think the large portion having no problem continuing to do business with China on such a large scale is a folly of historic proportions.

Since that folly is unlikely to be abated, it'd be good if we at least cut off companies actively helping to undermine human rights and democratic institutions.


Wow, I've never seen a more open defense of profit motive as the only possible objective function for business.


I have no interest in living in a world where Google decides what is right and wrong. I don't even agree with their default browser options.


"A company complying with the laws of the country it does business in seems fairly uncontroversial to me, even if you may not agree with those laws."

See, that's where you and I differ; you're just referring to them as "that country's laws", and not considering what those laws actually are. I, on the other hand, prefer to take into account the context of the situation, which includes considering what those laws are.


Solid defense of Watson Business Machines you're making there.


> A company complying with the laws of the country it does business in seems fairly uncontroversial to me, even if you may not agree with those laws.

Stopping your analysis at legality/illegality is morally bankrupt. Local laws can be explicit tools of oppression and malice, and I would say its very controversial for western companies to follow such laws in authoritarian countries like China.

For an utterly obvious example of why this is true: look at Nazi Germany. Everything it did was in compliance with its local laws, but now many of its actions are universally considered crimes against humanity. Foreign companies and individuals that collaborated with it on those crimes are not excused by those laws.

> Do you want your companies to be extensions of US foreign policy?

I want them to be extensions of some basic liberal values, not agents of profit uber alles. For instance, I applaud European pharmaceutical companies for refusing to sell the anesthetics used for lethal injection to the US states that use them for executions.


Lots of governments do terrible things, and people condemn those governments all the time for it.

And people have been condemning companies for working for those governments as well.

If you want to look at some history, I will unfortunately have to invoke godwins law, by using the example of IBM, which everyone condemns now for working with the Nazis.

So to answer your question, I am happy to have companies be an extension of US foriegn policy, in cases where the US foreign policy is correct, and the other country is wrong.


> If you want to look at some history, I will unfortunately have to invoke godwins law, by using the example of IBM, which everyone condemns now for working with the Nazis.

Godwin's law has been repealed: https://www.thestranger.com/slog/2018/06/19/27874178/godwins...


>"Do you want your companies to be extensions of US foreign policy?"

No but it would be nice if they at least upheld the same values of the country that they themselves are a product of. Or are values just things you can draw arbitrary borders around when it's convenient?


Not many disagree with that. The question is whether it should be enforced by politics or if people/companies can be allowed to make the decisions themselves.


It depends upon what the decisions made are. At a certain point it will reach the level that voters will want it to be controlled by politics, and likely the control will be tighter than if they hadn't crossed whatever line motivated voters to push for control.

The US already enforced some laws on its citizens as they travel regardless if the behavior is legal overseas. These tend to be done to actions that are deemed the worst of the worst. Minor crimes are not enforced globally.

At what point is supporting and working with China going to cross that line, given many of their current actions against unpopular groups?


    it would be nice if they at least upheld the same values of the country that they themselves are a product of.
One could say the same of the government :)


Heh, yes agreed.


Would you like Chinese companies operating in the US to do the same?


What are laws besides a culture's values written down in the form of rules?

I'm only being mildly pedantic here. Obviously, there are some silly laws that don't work here; I'm talking about the large obvious ones that everyone knows about.


>"What are laws besides a culture's values written down in the form of rules?"

Do you really believe that's true when a country has had only a single political party since 1949?


You're looking at the question from a really nihilistic-libertarian perspective.

IBM was following the law when it sold the nazis tools for tracking 'undesirable' people. Google's search engine will be used to track the Uyghur, and the Uyghurs are being sent to reeducation camps at this very moment.

We're talking about an apples to apples comparison here. It's controversial _as hell_ to sell tools used to do genocide! In a democracy the government should be able to restrain businesses that perform abhorrent practices.


If that's true, it says to me that governments should put a blanket block on doing certain types of business with that specific country. Such a block should apply to all companies equally. It doesn't require them to be more involved in decisions from within the companies.


Why though? We draw lines about what is legally acceptable or not all the time, often with little more guidance than subjective morality filtered through elected representation.

There is a vast difference between Hugo Boss making Nazi uniforms and IBM selling them high tech machines designed to increase the efficiency of their extermination.


I'm not sure what you mean. I agree that there is a difference. So there should be a law blocking the 2nd type of activity. The lack of a law is implicit moral approval of the American people.


> The lack of a law is implicit moral approval of the American people.

Not at all. At most - if you assume that the political system is meaningfully representative of moral sentiment, which is a very big "if" - it is the lack of explicit disapproval, which is not the same as the lack of disapproval in general (because it could just be that most people don't judge because they don't know), and certainly not at all the same as approval.


Absolutely, it should be written to block all companies equally.

But in must be written


But what if they’re driven to concentration camps in automobiles manufactured by US companies? Should we regulate Ford?


What about arms dealers that sell weapons to these people?


I this case it's controversial, unless one is pro dictatorship, or maybe just clueless.

Because the laws are controversial: They entail people get sent to prison, for speaking up against sexism or toxic air, or because they want some privacy, or because they criticize the government (well, dictatorship).

That is controversial. Unless one is fine with, or is clueless about, toxic air, sexual harassment, others going to prison because they disagree with the government (dictators).


What if the law was that you had to execute employees found to be subverting the state? There has to be a limit right? It's not just about complying with the law.


>Do you want your companies to be extensions of US foreign policy?

I'd rather have companies be extensions of US policy, than make US policy themselves.


Careful, you’re dangerously close to a legitimate Godwin: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/IBM_and_the_Holocaust


>A company complying with the laws of the country it does business in seems fairly uncontroversial to me, even if you may not agree with those laws.

Depends on what those laws are. Imagine if Google was deliberately helping out with some genocide to make a dollar? And given some stories coming from China, that isn't exactly a what-if situation.

>Do you want your companies to be extensions of US foreign policy?

They have to be extensions of US morals to the extent voters don't push for them to be punished for not being so. That's a byproduct of using democracy.


The USA has historically treated its corporations as extensions of its foreign policy [0].

[0] United Fruit.


If that's your stance, shouldn't it apply to every company[1][2][3] that is already engaging in this? What makes Google a target for litigation here?

edit: Not saying that because other companies do something similar that Google should get carte-blanche, just trying to see what the differentiation is.

1: https://qz.com/990662/microsoft-released-a-new-version-of-wi...

2: https://www.engadget.com/2018/07/18/apple-icloud-data-china-...

3: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-facebook-privacy-congress...


Yes. We're long overdue for some house cleaning in that regard. You should not be able to run your company in US - enjoying the fruits of a free democratic society with rule of law, due process etc - and use those fruits to enable the opposite elsewhere in the world.

If Google, Facebook etc don't like it, they're welcome to move their headquarters and main campus to China. Then it will be an internal matter of China. So long as they're here, they should not be allowed to do things that our culture considers deeply inappropriate.


This is a nice platitude, but once you dig deeper you'll see that its not coherent. You're saying that companies are obligated to spread their home nation law to other nations, and conversely foreign companies to you in your own nation. I believe you'd find that extremely uncomfortable very quickly.


No, I'm not saying that at all. I'm saying that American companies are obligated to not help other governments implement oppressive laws, or, in general, aid and abet in carrying out things that we consider despicable as a culture. This is not at all the same as American companies spreading American law elsewhere. The law should be applied to those companies operating here (in particular, any of their management and engineers here) not to their foreign customers.

Similarly, if China would punish any company that, say, does not censor information about Tienanmen protests here in US, that's their business. That does not push their censorship laws on me in any meaningful sense - it means that if I deal with a Chinese company, I get Chinese censorship, which is reasonable and expected; or I can deal with an American or a European company instead. There's no law applied to me either way.


You are ultimately saying within a sovereign nation you should abide by the law of that nation but the cultural values of another.


And again, no.

I'm saying that you should abide by the law of the nation where you're performing an activity - say, designing and implementing some piece of software - regardless of where the fruits of your labor will eventually be deployed. And the law of that nation will, of course, be based on its cultural values. So if the culture of that nation frowns upon helping to oppress people in certain ways, then you shall not do so while in the jurisdiction of that nation, regardless of where the oppressed people are located.

None of this imposes any cultural values on anyone who is not in the jurisdiction of our nation. If China wants to have their Panopticon, they can still do it - themselves. But Google doesn't get to help them to do so, because it is an American company, and people who implement these tools of oppression are American residents, subject to American laws and cultural values. China doesn't have any natural right to the fruits of their labor.

Really, this is no different from prohibiting or regulating arms exports. Do you have similar objections to, say, arms embargo on DPRK?


I think the idea of a corporation as a single nationalized identity is where we disagree, and probably the law breaks down as well. As in function this is not true.


Well, for starters, any corporation is headquartered somewhere, and I think it's not at all unreasonable that the country where it takes place can attach strings to it. After all, corporations don't pick a spot for their headquarters arbitrarily - they derive certain benefits from it - and if they are dodging the associated costs, then we have a free rider problem.

But even setting that aside, my emphasis isn't on the corporation itself so much so as individuals working in it, who are the ones actually doing those things. I don't see why we can't impose restrictions on our residents, saying that they e.g. can't enable oppressive foreign regimes. And that, in practice, would have the same effect on the corporation - they wouldn't be able to do it here, and they'd have to relocate that entire operation into China or another place that would allow it.

Or prohibit any resident from profiting from it, for that matter, e.g. by investing in a foreign corporation that does such things - which would also preclude US corporations from establishing foreign subsidiaries to dodge the responsibility but still partake in the profits.


More directly:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/democracy-post/wp/2018/0...

(note that "tens of thousands of cameras throughout Xinjiang" is an error — that's tens of thousands in one county alone https://twitter.com/BenjaminDooley/status/104420148593903616...)


>What makes Google a target for litigation here?

Under laws that are selectively enforced, either drawing the ire of the ones in charge of enforcement or drawing the ire of the general public enough they pressure the ones in charge of enforcement to act. In either case, what draws ire could be actions largely unrelated to the laws themselves and may be based on actions that people generally would not support making illegal. This is a flaw with selective enforcement, and why I support ending selective enforcement.


> Is it more or less messed up than that a private corporation can and is willing to perform surveillance on foreign citizens on behalf of those citizens' government that would be unacceptable anywhere else?

It actually happens a lot more places than just China. The only reason its getting headlines now is because its Google.

There are a TON of information security companies who deal with sketchy foreign governments to develop tools to spy on their own citizens.

- Israeli company NSO helping the UAE spy on pro-democracy activist Ahmed Mansoor

- BAE Systems actively shopping surveillance tools to countries like Algeria, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE during the Arab Spring.

- Procera Networks who sold deep packet inspection tools to Turkey to spy on its citizens

- Hacking Team's surveillance software was sold to the Ethiopian government (among others) to spy on journalists and other activists in their country.

You also have Mitnick who threw his hat in the ring and said he has a team of hackers uncovering zero-day exploits that he hopes to sell to the highest bidder - even if the bidder is a repressive regime.


Great! I say we go after vendors like Cisco first, right? I mean - they worked in detail with China to design the initial GReat Firewall didn't they?

Should we break them up or just fine them into nonexistence?


I agree so much.

Business use this sort of hand wavy excuse all the time “government shouldn’t be involved.” Truth is they don’t want the American people to have any say in the operation.

Sure, you could say we vote with out dollars but they keep as much info secret as humanly possible.

They need regulation for basic things like “users own their information” and “don’t corporate with foreign governments to censor or monitor citizens”.

How the US public bought this corporate lie so hard is beyond me, people are actively rooting for companies to get more and more power.


I think one thing that's important here is that China has a lot of pull on these companies. It's possible for China to look at Google, Apple, or whatever and just say "oh, too bad you don't want to do X. I guess we're going to have to do Y to your business model." It really should be the role of the government in this sort of instance to step in remove the incentive for China to enact punitive measure against that company by just making it impossible legally for that company to even be immoral in that specific way. How difficult is it to codify a law that says "it is illegal for a company based in the US to perform surveillance operations on behalf of a foreign government agency against its own people"?


Honest question: what if we removed the notion of “foreign” from your question?

And, what if we extended this across the board to all corporations, not just Google?

I feel uneasy when thinking about the society China is trying to build overtly, and the society that Washington is building covertly. It’s sad that 15 years after the Patriot Act, we’ve just accepted domestic surveillance as a requisite function of governance.


I don’t think it’s more messed up for companies to follow the law of the country they’re operating in. Do you think it’s messed up that foreign companies comply with US laws?


The only one who can answer that question is a citizen of the country to which those foreign companies belong, because only they can judge it within their own cultural framework. And they're welcome to do so.

And here, we're going to judge our companies by the standards of our society.


Shouldn't anyone be able to judge anything? I have no problem judging non-American companies, just as non-Americans seem to have no problem judging American ones.


Or that US tech companies have to comply with EU laws like GDPR?


Taken to the extreme, this question becomes "Do you want Snow Crash or 1984?"

But there's a whole sliding scale of space between the two, and the question of which tool to use when is the day-to-day meat of a livable and happy society.


I'm in the camp of the fewer regulations the better, but one thing I think needs more regulation is how the private sector and public sector interact. There is just way too much conflict of interest when they mix.


It's par for the course. Cisco helped China build the GFW. If you want to prevent business in China related to censorship, then pass a law that does that. Don't senselessly target Google just because it's popular with consumers.


Does Google not perform surveillance on American citizens through the NSA Prism program? [0]

I'm against all forms of surveillance, but it seems hypocritical to criticize Google for complying with immoral foreign laws when they also comply with immoral domestic laws.

[0] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jun/06/us-tech-giants...

Edit: Ah, apparently conforming with Chinese laws doesn't just extend to surveillance, but aiding in the genocide of the Uyghur people. That's a lot worse.


This is what Palantir does in the united states, the only difference is the specific laws and the government in question. There's a big gray area here.


Less


I wonder when Americans lost the idea of 'government for the people, by the people'. They see the government as some spOoOoOKy entity when the reality is the government is the only thin barrier of protection people have against actors who want to prey on them. Businesses are beholden to profit, individuals beholden to themselves. Imagine what your life would be like without the bill of rights, or the constitution, laws or courts. The government is obligated to the interests of it's constituents. Lack of trust in the government is how we end up with egomaniacs in the office trying to run the country like a business.


Government has tendency to grab all the power it can. Combined with monopoly on violence this is a combination that rightfully makes people wary of that. So people came up with Bill of rights, constitution, and other constructs to safeguard government behaviour.


I agree that some level of government is absolutely essential, and you're right, bad actors would do even more damage than they already do. I don't think it's clear what that level is (Libertarian vs. Socialist), but I'm skeptical we can have a reasonable discussion about it until we reduce financial influence in politics.

The lack of trust is due to the image of politicians shaking hands and benefiting from corporate spend (Citizens United etc.). Significantly reduce that influence and work towards earning the trust of the people back. The whole "Drain the Swamp" con got a lot of votes.

On it's face, the situation is obviously ridiculous isn't it?

1. Politicians need large sums of money to win elections (problem #1).

2. Corporations and wealthy individuals are allowed to provide that money (problem #2).

3. We expect politicians to police their donors (obvious conflict).

When there's riches (and power... but that's unavoidable) involved you end up with more opportunists than idealists.


While I'm not a fan, this is the crux of the Charles Koch book "Good Profit." In short, government oversight / over-reach quickly becomes a game of favoritism and distorted markets.

Like it or not, it's hard to argue with that theory.


Not really: "When companies become too large it quickly becomes a game of anti-competitive actions and distorted markets"

Companies dont have our interests in mind any more than the government, but we can vote the government out.


>Companies dont have our interests in mind any more than the government, but we can vote the government out.

Companies are easier to not do business with. Governments only get voted out if enough people agreed to vote with you. Also, only one of these groups generally has the ability to use violence against you, and if the other group has that ability, it is only because the first allowed it to be delegated.


> Companies are easier to not do business with.

Some companies, however at a certain point, it becomes extremely difficult to not doing business with specific companies.

For example: describe how you would stop doing business with Equifax.

Also, how would you stop doing business with Google. You cannot simply stop using the search engine or Gmail. You would have to block (or stop using) websites using Google Analytics, stop using sites/services that use Google's Cloud, etc.


> For example: describe how you would stop doing business with Equifax.

I can't speak to every area of their business, but as a credit consumer: You freeze your Equifax credit report and only work with lenders who will accept pulling a report from a different agency.


>> For example: describe how you would stop doing business with Equifax.

> I can't speak to every area of their business, but as a credit consumer: You freeze your Equifax credit report and only work with lenders who will accept pulling a report from a different agency.

Are there actually any lenders that would actually be Ok with that when you apply for a mortgage? It's de rigueur for them to demand your credit report from all three major agencies. I suspect that's because some of your accounts may be missing from one report or another, and they don't want borrowers tactically freezing the one credit report that has adverse information.

I suspect the only way to stop doing business with Equifax is to stop using or applying for credit. For many people, that means forever renting their housing, because they'll never be able to buy.


It does become more difficult than just not shopping at a local business, but it remains easier than deciding I don't want to be under my current government.


I could understand making that that argument in a thread about Starbucks, but saying that about Google is suspiciously naive.

There are companies with which it's not only difficult not to do business with, but impossible.

Even a person that is not using the internet at all will still have some of their information sucked into the gaping maws of Facebook and Google through their social circle.


If my friend take my picture in a private space and decides to share that with Google, my friend is the one doing business with them, not me. The problem is, this still does impact me, because my friend just gave information about me to Google. This hints at the problems around privacy in a world where everyone is recording things and also on the social expectations that it is fine for my friend to just upload my picture online. In the past, that was less acceptable (and in some of my social circles it was considered very anti-social to upload pictures of another's kids). Cultural norms have changed, and I risk isolating myself if I make demands of my friends to not give my information to Google. It would be akin to my avoiding Starbucks but my friends choosing to still meet there. At some point, if the corporations have the trust and engagement of my friends, I might have to choose if my stance of not doing business is more important than my friends.

But despite how bad all of this is, it is still an easier thing to accomplish than deciding to avoid your government. In the end, if I'm willing to isolate myself enough, Google won't have my information. But even if I go totally off the grid, the government will still make demands of my and if I refuse them they will seek me out, using agents who are armed and who have far more leniency to use violence to make me comply.

I'm not trying to say that one can easily avoid large corporations. In some cases it would require significant changes. But for as hard as it is, it is still easier than trying to avoid the government who wants to do something with/to you that you don't want done.


Not really. Many US markets are so concentrated that there are a handful of companies participating, and frequently these companies collude on policies.


> Companies are easier to not do business with. Governments only get voted out if enough people agreed to vote with you.

Monopolies are hard to avoid doing business, and some form of proportional representation reduces the number of people who have to agree with you before you change the makeup of a government.


I don't see why any of that is relevant, though.


No, they are not easier to not do business with, and it is also harder to find out when we should attempt to not do business with them.

Try telling people who have only Comcast to not get off the Internet, or people with only one nearby grocery store to boycott it.

Both require strenuous oversight, and without a govt capable and willing to constrain that oversight, you wind up wint an economy like the 1890s robber barons, which needed to be broken up by Teddy Roosevelt


>Try telling people who have only Comcast to not get off the Internet, or people with only one nearby grocery store to boycott it.

Regardless of the personal cost to not doing business with them, they won't send an armed force after you that will kidnap you. But with the government, if you want to grow a plant on your own property that they don't agree with, they will. That makes a massive difference.


Fair point.

But, with copyright and other corporate pet issues, is it the Govt that really cares about sending the armed people to arrest and charge you, or the corporations that effectively own the govt?

The further that excess corporate power is allowed to spread, the more tyrannical it will become.


When the government begins acting on behalf of the corporations, or they give the power of violence to the corporation (such as happens in private prisons), it does become a major problem. In those cases the corporations should be considered an extension of the government and treat as such.


Yes, and at this point, it seems that the more useful model is to look at the govt as an extension of the corporations.

My generalization is that for a society to function, while some concentrations of power are necessary (at a minimum to allow specialization, e.g., infrastructure, policing, military, legislation, executive functions, etc.), the key is to minimize and actively avoid concentrations of power.

The largest and most dangerous concentration of power in modern times is the corporations, as we are seeing with Cicizen's United, decision, regulatory capture (FCC, Copyright law extensions, current dismantling of EPA, other regulatory agencies, etc.).


> "Companies dont have our interests in mind any more than the government, but we can vote the government out."

I see it differently. Everytime I reach for my wallet I'm voting.

On the other hand, the government "market" has been cornered by two parties. We get to vote for their henchmen & henchwomen who (self) serve their parties - parties that are bought and paid for by forces we can't see nor control - more than the citizens who elected them.

With rare exception, my wallet has more power than your vote. Anyone who tells you otherwise needs a good history book.


What history books are you reading? Boycotts never work unless the product of the company in question is the reason for it.

Yes, the one you're thinking of included. Before she stepped on any bus, Rosa Parks volunteered to be the spark that the NAACP needed to accomplish their long-term goal of putting Civil Rights in the headlines. The leaflets were already printed and the picket signs were already made. The Montgomery Bus Company capitulated days after the boycott was announced, but the NAACP refused to end it until Parks' case had gone all the way to the Supreme Court and civil rights was dominating the headlines. It was a bit part of a grand political opera, and the Montgomery Bus Company was never the true target, just the excuse. The boycott wasn't effective, the campaign was effective. The wallet was just a stepping stone to the big prize: the vote.

Nothing can stop an anti-consumer corporation with monopolistic power except government intervention. Roosevelt didn't bust trusts by politely recommending alternatives.


"Nothing can stop an anti-consumer corporation with monopolistic power except government intervention. Roosevelt didn't bust trusts by politely recommending alternatives."

- Perhaps. But how often does the gov play a role in creating that monopoly? And sustaining it while the monopoly deepens it grip?

- Perhaps. But with rare exception (i.e., your example?) my wallet is still more powerful than your vote.

- Perhaps. But given the Snowden revelations, in the case of Google, whose side do think the government? Even if by chance the gov does something (to Google) its not going to address gov's key role in these situations.


1. The government didn't make Google or Amazon

2. My example explains why this sentiment was wrong. The montgomery bus boycott was a political tool and only was "successful" due to a nationwide political (ie, voting) campaign.

3. You know that Congress was super pissed by the Snowden revelations and changed the law, right? They even used their votes, not their wallets, to do it!


The gov didn't make Google or Amazon?

- Who enables Amazon to pay wages that requires employees to need subsidies?

- As for Google, the NSA __loves__ Google. That bias effects the gov's decisions.


>> we can vote the government out

What do you think is more likely to happen? Companies losing market share because people stop spending money with them? Or government being voted out with meaningful change coming in to replace it?


Cynically, neither.

I just dont believe arguments made from the Koch brother's books about how companies are preferable are made in good faith, and saying them like they are matter of fact is not intellectually sound.

Both are giant entities that dont give a single crap about individuals.


> quickly becomes a game of favoritism

Then remove money/favoritism from politics so that we get policies for the people, not some businesses.

Yes, removing money from political influence is hard, but the US has swung so extreme in the wrong direction that it puts the entire democracy at risk.


Your point is valid for most, but Google has the power to shape opinion and deserves special scrutiny. The government is not just "coming in" on this issue, Google is under a consent decree due to their prior demonstrated bad practices.

On this issue, nothing will be done (I hope) because it's irrelevant to US citizens. But it is a good thing to publicly call them to task for violating their own internal guidelines and mandated policies. It's not acceptable.


The letter [0] actually argued that "Dragonfly is part of a broad pattern of unaccountable decision making across the tech industry".

The article seems to have recently been modified to link to it.

[0] https://int.nyt.com/data/documenthelper/328-jack-poulson-dra...


It basically has to be the government forcing them, because otherwise companies (and their lawyers) will just fall back on "Well, we're following the local laws and not doing anything illegal in our home jurisdiction."

You already see that kind of weasily justification here all the time[0]: "Companies are soulless machines that exist only to make money, they should do whatever they're legally allowed to do."

The only response to this kind of moral nihilism is legislation.

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18079027


> I don't believe in the government obliging businesses to do things.

Should government oblige Boeing to make safe airplanes? Google and others not to violate user privacy? All businesses not to sell dangerous munitions to terrorist and enemy states?

> it looks like this whole thing is Google specific

Nothing has been done or even proposed yet; what is that based on?

In the U.S. at least, generally the government can't make laws for individual companies or businesses; Congress couldn't pass a law that bilbo0s can't sell laptops in China, for example. They would have to make a law about every business doing things in China. However, I don't know the specifics of that legal principle and how it is applied here.

> Once government gets involved and starts playing favorites, everything gets messed up.

Things already seem messed up. I don't see private enterprise as more reliable than the voters and their representatives, and the latter seems like a more fair way to resolve public affairs. I guess I have faith and confidence in democracy. It is flawed, of course, just like every other human institution from Google to religious institutions to everyone here on HN.


I find it a little disturbing how we can have laws that stipulate how companies have to treat their workers and conduct their business but as soon as we start talking about ensuring what we consider "rights" are being taken care of overseas it's too far.

Not quite as disgusting as how we ended up with torture, including waterboarding, indefinite detainment, and a whole slew of fun activities in the early aughts that made great recruitment ammo. All under the sentiment of "Oh, well if they aren't Americans they don't have rights." Or "If they aren't on American soil they don't have rights".

There is a case to be made that the Bill of Rights is an extension of the "unalienable rights" mentioned in the deceleration of independence. That you can't take those away or give those to people. That the Bill of Rights simply enshrined and protected them, not provided them.

Maybe we should rename the Bill of Rights to "Bill of Perks for being in America" and retcon our founding principals. It's interesting seeing people who would probably consider themselves "libertarians" arguing against legal action protecting peoples liberties..


I can appreciate the sentiment here, but I'm reluctant to accept it on a purely practical basis. Which is to say: how do we make that happen? What does it look like?

The idea of inalienable rights is theoretical at best, because a large fraction of the world is alienated from any right one cares to name. As an assertion that humans deserve these things, that they should be demanded without compromise or compensation? Sure. As an assertion that they are in any consequential sense distinguishable from alienable rights? I don't see how.

Virtually every country in the world operates under laws that contravene the US Bill of Rights in one manner or another. The speech laws of nations like Germany and Britain, whatever their merits, unambiguously violate the First Amendment. The Sixth Amendment is unsupported in virtually any nation without an adversarial justice system. The Seventh Amendment is unsupported in most nations, where jury trials are either not practiced or not guaranteed. Even without touching the Second Amendment, the vast majority of liberal democracies allied with America do not uphold the Bill of Rights.

As is, this is easy to sort out: the Bill of Rights restricts the actions of the US Government and no one else. Issues like waterboarding and indefinite detainment operate at the edge of this principle, but I'm content to observe that the Bill of Rights does not discuss citizenship or soil; it simply places restrictions on the action of the US Government towards 'persons'. Rendition and torture are fundamentally different from any question of Google's activity, and were clearly illegal. Similarly, the government is restricted from infringements, not just direct action; the use of proxies like contractors to violate rights is clearly illegal.

In the international case, though, I genuinely don't understand what you're proposing. Google did not violate the rights of persons, citizen or otherwise, US soil or otherwise, on behalf of the US government. (In fact, it's not even clear that it would have violated such rights by running Dragonfly in the United States on the orders of the US government. I desperately want Constitutional privacy guarantees, but the idea is still uncomfortably penumbral.)

So: are corporations obligated to uphold constitutional rights with regard to their own actions, independent of the state? Are they obligated to uphold those rights abroad? Does that exclusively apply to companies incorporated in the US, or those resident for tax purposes, or is a permanent establishment sufficient? If the answer isn't 'incorporated', what are they to do when multiple nations assert conflicting rights, as with Google's Canadian legal mess between 1A guarantees and the right to be forgotten? If it is 'incorporated', what happens when US-dominated companies begin incorporating under international flags of convenience?

I could go on at much greater length, but leave it there. My objection is not that US citizens are special or deserve better than other people, but that attempts to enforce Constitutional guarantees beyond the action of the US government have promptly become both legally ambiguous and frighteningly imperialistic. And so far, I haven't seen any proposal for avoiding that outcome.


> As is, this is easy to sort out: the Bill of Rights restricts the actions of the US Government and no one else

As a matter of law, this is correct. It's true that the Bill of Rights is only legally binding in America.

But we are not here arguing that the Bill of Rights aught to be binding on the whole world. The argument is that Congress ought to treat the Bill of Rights as if it were binding on the whole world. These aren't just laws, they are foundational principles.

Under the letter of the law, Congress isn't prohibited from secretly imprisoning and torturing random people on foreign soil, but that doesn't mean that this behavior is okay, it means they've found a loophole and they don't care about the principles.


I'm still confused about the connection back to Google in China, if that's implied here.

I absolutely agree that the US government's behavior regarding detention, torture, rendition, and so on was horrifying and immoral, and it betrays an utter lack of conscience in most everyone involved.

And, I agree that the acts remain dubiously legal at best. For American-administered treatment, the determination of combatant status was almost certainly done improperly to the Geneva standard. For foreign administration, the practice of extraordinary rendition itself was unambiguously illegal, and if "here, violate the Constitution for us" wasn't actually illegal, it was obviously counter to intent.

The thing I still can't reconcile is how Google's action undirected by the USG is comparable to torture/rendition/etc done directly under government instruction. The Bill of Rights doesn't even bind non-government actors domestically, so I'm struggling to understand the appeals in this thread to 'enforce' it regarding Google in China.


The common thread is taking a dump on our principals when it's expedient and occurs outside of the US. As well, the mental gymnastics people go through to rationalize and justify those actions.


I'm not proposing anything legal or technical; simply that there is appears to be a dissonance between how some view the acceptability of allowing government and corporations to violate "rights" and "liberties" at home vs abroad. If that can't be overcome, I don't know how we could ever make progress on the technicalities.


Oh, entirely endorsed then. I may have been a bit quick on the gun because I've seen some rather loopy proposals to enshrine that non-distinction in law, but I certainly agree that there's an alarming moral incoherence.

The idea that it's somehow better for an American company to help regressive, unelected governments abroad spy on people than to do the same at home is nastily backwards. Hell, even the idea that it's fine for international companies like that to source their labor in the US (a la Hacking Team) is loathsome, and I'm not sure why it doesn't draw more criticism.


"I don't believe in the government obliging businesses to do things."

Government can already block the sale of companies, and whether they can sell certain kinds of products to certain countries. I don't think Google should be given a "free ride" to make whatever decisions they want just because they are a popular tech company.

Want to be an American company? Obey the US Government's laws and decrees. If not, they can relocate to the UK (and obey UK laws and decrees) or to the Bahamas (and obey Bahamian law and decrees) and become a non-US based entity.


> What about all the other American companies doing business in China? Do they get to keep doing business because they are politically popular companies but Google is not? Or would this be a government mandate of a broad based American pull out?

Getting the US government involved period is a bad idea. Government interference in business is how big government starts. You need more and more agencies to police business behavior, and that eventually leads to large, inefficient, and inept bureaucratic agencies that do more harm than good. Example: EPA, FDA, etc


I'm not sure the EPA and FDA are the best examples you could've picked...


I've gotten down voted for this opinion in the past, but US equity broker-dealers have created self-regulatory bodies like FINRA with sensible auditing, rules with teeth, and certification processes simply to avoid being micromanaged by the SEC. This has worked fairly well at limiting many client/insider abuses. The large internet companies would do well to put something like this together as a buffer instead of praying against government policy intervention or antitrust proceedings.


its not really google specific other than in the sense google is breaking the law; if some other company breaks the law then yes, the law should come after them too...


So what would you propose?


Well, ironically, the proposed approach is to have government has censor police within Google, to ensure the opinion is, you know, balanced, left and right.


Google can have whatever opinions it wants.

When it starts acting out of them, that's another matter.


I think there are a lot of conditions and issues with trade and China, and I'm not sure how the US government deal with them all, but I agree one rule for Google is a TERRIBLE idea and precedent.

Semi-related, how weird is this https://twitter.com/amlivemon/status/1002044167793594368

> As a condition of China joining the WTO in 2000, Visa and Mastercard would be allowed into China market. 18 years later, China has lost a WTO case on this subject and Visa/Mastercard are still not allowed into China. That's just for starters. Don't believe China on trade deals.

China and trade is a real quagmire.


I agree that government regulation is not a silver bullet, but neither is the free market. Companies at the scale of Google are directly benefiting from the current government infrastructure and rule-of-law that allows them to be one of the most profitable companies on the planet. At that size, there definitely should be some accountability to broader society, and there is no mechanism for that other than government, imperfect though it may be. The current political climate is one where capitalist incentives are deemed inherently moral, and the fear of government intervention is disproportionately high while consolidation of wealth is accelerating. We're all still basking in the lowered-barriers-to-entry of the internet age, but if we don't restore some faith in government we may well be heading towards a world where FAANG control all meaningful tech innovation.


they don't have the same level of influence as Google. Ford doesn't cause political upheaval. McDonald's never fanned the flames for a protest.


[flagged]


a) Buying things from China is different from implementing censorship systems for the Chinese government.

b) See the "In Comments" section of https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html. Specifically: "Be civil. Don't say things you wouldn't say face-to-face. Don't be snarky. Comments should get more civil and substantive, not less, as a topic gets more divisive."


[flagged]


B) You posted here.


My take in the issue is that Google is being mismanaged. China will not allow a foreign company to compete against its home grown search engines, so why bother? By bowing to Chinese censorship, Google hurts its public image. Google's management should have expected that its employees, who joined Google on the premise of "Do not evil", would leak this to the public. In short, the people at the top of Google look like fools to me.


We don't have the whole picture. Chinese might be open to some kind of a deal that could give Google share of the pie for a long time. If Internet really bifurcates and Chinese one spreads across most developing countries, it could pose a risk for Google to be left out of areas with majority of world's population.


Eric Schmidt said in a recent interview that the internet is going to split in two with China's version (censorship) v US's version (openness.) So...company behavior is matching that. I think the problem is that I firmly believe that freedom will win out in the long run. Chinese leadership will lose its grip once reality hits its economy, and Google's view is shortsighted in this regard imo. People will remember who helped suppress. A LOT can change in a decade.


Will the other tech companies be remembered for never resisting in the first place? IIRC Microsoft and Yahoo we're both like "censorship and tracking? HELL YEAH, where do we sign?" from day one.


That's quite different than Google tying search queries to a phone number. Though I also don't agree with censorship in Bing's regard either. Also from my understanding a lot of Bing/Yahoo results aren't "official policy" and the reports of censorship from 2014 have been addressed, a lot having to do with simplified Chinese characters/bad translation. Google even has higher share in China than Bing. Google already operates in China with .cn domain through Hong Kong, the new action is an entirely different posture.


Chinese government is not this monolith entity with a single will.

All major firms operating in China will have to have some sort of government connections who champion for them, otherwise its competitors will use their influence in government branches to put on more scrutiny on them, creating a competitive advantage.

At its core, this is not that different from major US firms having to have allies in media and Washington to avoid being heavily scrutinized. Although how the connections are established and how the influence is carried out might be new to US companies. Google will have to learn and compete at a disadvantage in the meantime.


>China will not allow a foreign company to compete against its home grown search engines, so why bother?

Bing is allowed in china

>Google hurts its public image

Sure some people get hurts but for some other, for example if I can use google service without having to mess with vpn, it would be convenient.


>> China will not allow a foreign company to compete against its home grown search engines, so why bother?

> Bing is allowed in china

It's probably more accurate to say the Chinese government will not allow a foreign company to out-compete one of its local champion companies. The Chinese government is probably fine with Google being a minor player, but they'd start to have issues if it starts dominating Baidu.


I'm sure some MBA has run the numbers and determined that operating in China provides $X over Y interval, I highly suspect another MBA has run the numbers and determined that operating in China costs $Z dollars to Google's brand, and I'd guess that X >>> Z.


The people at the top of Google are rich and have the freedom and resources to work on things that interest them.

Also, this is an old issue, Google in China.

I'm sure they won't start caring what a few outspoken individuals think by this point.


So what do you suggest instead?


Completely agree. The best thing they can do is focus on containment by focusing on winning all the countries surrounding China so that the Chinese companies can't really expand beyond China's borders.

There's nothing wrong with making sure Baidu, Tencent and all the other big Chinese companies remain largely China-only companies.


> China will not allow a foreign company to compete against its home grown search engines, so why bother?

No. China will let a foreign company compete against its home grown search engines under its own terms. There's no way we'd let a chinese company take over search in the US. Why should they allow an american search engine take over?

> By bowing to Chinese censorship, Google hurts its public image.

Google has bowed down to european and american censorship. What difference does it make if they bow to chinese censorship? You don't seem outraged at google censoring in the US and Europe.

> In short, the people at the top of Google look like fools to me.

Yeah. The multibillionaires look real foolish with their multibillions in the bank. Google execs don't care what employees think. It's not their job. They work for the shareholders, not their employees. Considering how well google's stock have been doing, it doesn't seem like shareholders are too shaken up about google getting back in china.

The faux moralizing is getting ridiculous. Especially when a significant portion of people on HN are demanding more censorship at home.


> There's no way we'd let a chinese company take over search in the US.

Why not? Korea and China dominate the manufacturing part, why should search be any different?


> Why not?

Because it's important ( national security level important ).

> Korea and China dominate the manufacturing part, why should search be any different?

Korea and China dominate the manufacturing part of search? What does that even mean?


Fundamental issue is the expectation that all public companies must keep growing and show profits quarter after quarter, year after year. This is obviously unsustainable.

It is like a treadmill that keeps increasing speed. If you slow down, you are thrown out.

If consecutive quarterly results are not good, CEO is typically thrown out. This pressure forces management to make unnatural decisions that might help short-term, but will hurt long-term. What we are seeing with Google with all of these recent events/decisions is a result of this, IMO.


Obviously, growing every quarter significantly is not sustainable. But growing profits every quarter is how stock price goes up, right? Assuming you don't pay dividends on your stock, if you don't grow profits every quarter then your stock price doesn't go up, and the shareholders (via the board of directors) will sack the CEO. The whole incentive structure for corporations seems to cause the short term thinking that you see in large companies. Can you keep the shareholders placated by paying dividends instead of growing stock value via growing profit?


You still need to grow by more than the dividend or you will erode share price over time. Nobody invests $100 into a company so that a year from now it is $100, even if they get a couple $2.50 checks throughout the year on top of that.


> Nobody invests $100 into a company so that a year from now it is $100, even if they get a couple $2.50 checks throughout the year on top of that.

Why not? If it's somewhat reliable (in the long run, averaged out), that's a ROI of 2.5%, which is not too bad I think.


> You still need to grow by more than the dividend or you will erode share price over time

No you don't.

Imagine a company that has a share price of 100$. And this company makes 10$ in profit, per share, and returns that 10$ in profits to shareholders every year in perpetuity.

Thats a 10% rate of return that investors would be happy to accept in perpetuity.

People accept this deal all the time. Usually they are called "bonds" or "loans", and they act as merely an a perpetuity cash payout.


The critical flaw is that one of the stated goals of the FED is to manufacture inflation. You need to "grow" at at least the rate of FED-induced inflation, otherwise you are shrinking. Its how our debt-based, rent-seeking economy "functions".


> Thats a 10% rate of return

It isn't, because it's not compound interest (exponential growth), which is what everyone is after--and needs, to beat inflation. It's a fixed revenue stream. To make it compound, one would have to reinvest the return in this stock or something else, and reinvesting in this stock would increase its demand, which pushes its price up, and then we're off to the races again.

The whole system is mathematically unstable. It's only survived this long due to slow(ish) growth, but it keeps experiencing repeated price shocks, crashes, currency rebases, debt defaults, and finally issuing new currencies (which, btw, is why everyone is going nuts over crypto currencies). It can last quite some time--perhaps a couple generations--when the exponents are very low (read: < 3%), but when the exponents are high (i.e. companies shooting for > 10% growth), this thing is going off the rails. Welcome to the show!


Nothing prevents you from taking that 10% and buying more shares, or diversifying.


People accept that deal when they have a very strong guarantee that their $100 will still be worth $100 at the end of the term. Combining the low yields of bonds (let's be honest, your numbers are chosen for their roundness, not their realism) with the low safety of stocks is the worst of both worlds.


He's talking about investing in value stocks.

There's quite literally a word for low growth but reliable stocks that pay out decent dividends. "Value stocks", as opposed to "Growth stocks" where investors expect to see the returns directly in the stock price.


I think it is and should come down to either reinvestment of returns and growth, or dividends... both grow the economy, provide value and/or increase share value. What doesn't do that is parking capital in other countries as tax havens. I'm okay with the former two.

I do think shareholders are more than happy to see 10-20% in dividend returns annually. They're able to buy more stocks or diversify accordingly. I'm also okay with growth and reinvestment internally in a company (that tends to grow stock value). And it isn't an either/or issue.

What I don't think is reasonable is to see a given company try to get consistent growth in saturated markets they heavily control. It doesn't work, and trying to do so leads to horrible decision making in the longer term.


See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tendency_of_the_rate_of_profit... for a detailed analysis of this effect


> Fundamental issue is the expectation that all public companies must keep growing and show profits quarter after quarter, year after year. This is obviously unsustainable.

Continuous growth is sustainable at or below world economic growth. It is obviously not sustainable above as eventually you would become the entire economy and thus you would equal world economic growth. However, economics is not zero sum as our economies have pretty continuously grown for centuries and there is no limit on economic growth.


> Fundamental issue is the expectation that all public companies must keep growing and show profits quarter after quarter, year after year.

This is not true at all.

There are lots of companies out there that make a profit, and return those profits to shareholders via dividends.

If google wants to just continue making profits, they can just do that, and send that money back to the shareholders/owners, just like most every other company out there.


> Fundamental issue is the expectation that all public companies must keep growing and show profits quarter after quarter, year after year. This is obviously unsustainable.

Hey, feel free to invest your retirement savings in a company that doesn't grow profits year after year, I'm sure you'll do great!


>invest your retirement savings

We would need to rework the whole system if we threw out the "constant growth" method of running a company. If we take care of the people so they don't have to worry about saving for retirement, it's possible to redesign the economy in this way and our goals as a society.

You obviously can't change one major axiom of the US economy without revisiting the remaining axioms!


No idea why this is getting downvoted.


Hacker News is full of capitalists and libertarians who hate any mention of alternative economic systems.


Not all companies exist solely as an investment vehicle.


They are literally government sanctioned investment vehicles. If they don't return profits to their owners, they are non-profits/charities, not corporations.


Sure, but would you invest your retirement savings in one that doesn't?


And yet people don't "invest" into blatant pyramid schemes.

Sustainability is more important than growth.


Many do and many don't grow profits but rather sustain profits year after year, and they do great.


> and they do great

Yep, their value never changes, which means that if you invested your savings in them, you'd get no returns.

Tell me, where do you invest your retirement savings?


The value of a business is not, or should not entirely be, measured by its return on investment. You are making the GP's point for them. That some continue growth, and that's where we choose to invest, doesn't mean all should or that it is beneficial that all do.


> The value of a business is not, or should not entirely be, measured by its return on investment.

No, it is the opposite. The return on investment is measured by the value of the business.

But I'm not getting your point, are you suggesting that Google should be a charity?

Would you invest your retirement savings on a charity that will return 0%?


in google's case founders still control the majority of votes though no?


> Fundamental issue is the expectation that all public companies must keep growing and show profits quarter after quarter, year after year. This is obviously unsustainable.

Not if such executives have controlling interest, which Google's execs do.


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