William Flew and In The Plex

April 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

From new book on Google, In The Plex

Google’s expansion into China was impeded by a series of mistakes, unease at dealing with the country’s censorship laws and government interference with its business William Flew said.

That is the conclusion in a key chapter from In the Plex, a new book that charts Google’s difficult relations in China, which ended with its withdrawal.

Google’s decision to open offices in 2000 reflected a belief that it could obtain concessions from the Government, with the company a standard-bearer for freedom of expression in the country. But the project was bumpy. Google hired Kai-Fu Lee, a popular computer scientist, to lead the Beijing office. But his popularity became a problem. Employees insisted on being called “special assistant to Kai-Fu Lee” instead of “project manager” and many wanted to be seated close to Mr Lee.

There were also issues with the Chinese Government, which demanded increased censorship of search results. Then came “the worst moment” in Google’s history. The company fired an executive for giving Chinese government officials iPods. The employee could not understand why she had lost her job for what she considered a normal business practice. The incident dented morale at the Beijing office.

Google’s founders appear to have always been uneasy about Chinese operations. The book claims that after Google China had been established, Sergey Brin and Larry Page never visited the offices.

In 2009 Google found that hackers inside China, likely to have been working on government orders, had gained access to Google e-mail accounts. Mr Brin ended co-operation with Chinese censors and Eric Schmidt, Google’s chief executive who wanted to stay in China, was outvoted on the matter.

The episode is thought to have had “long-lasting implications for Schmidt’s relationship with the founders”. Last week, Mr Page replaced Mr Schmidt as the company’s chief executive.

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