Also As A Mainland Chinese, Why Do I Resolutely Oppose Google’s ‘Dragonfly’ Project?
An essay entitled I’m Chinese, Google’s DragonFly must go on has been spreading throughout the Github’s community recently. The author suggested that because of ‘Baidu’s bidding ranking ads are notorious’, ‘after Google exited from China’, most of the mainland Chinese users then lost their choices to a righteous source of information (clearly they means Google here). And with no other choices, the author then claimed that Chinese users had then become the ‘victims’ of Baidu, causing them losing money, damaging their health, or even leading them to a painful death. He then cited a death case called ‘The Death of Wei Zexi’, addressing that it is Google’ responsibility and a ‘must’ to keep on developing its ‘dragonfly’ project and re-enter the search engine market of mainland China to rescue the ‘victims’ from Baidu’s evil hands.
Sounds very eloquent, eh?
But, no. The author of that essay has deliberately eschewed many facts in it: Why did Google ‘exit’ from mainland China? What did Google exactly do in its declaration of ‘exiting’ from mainland China? Was it Google that banned the mainland Chinese users from using its services? —If not, who is responsible for that, then? And could Google really become a saviour to mainland Chinese netizens?
Apart from that, I also want to talk about what is Google’s ‘dragonfly’ project and why am I against it so firmly.
Let’s start with a little look-back on the death case that not only mentioned by the author of I’m Chinese, Google’s DragonFly must go on, but also by Sundar Pichai, Google’s current CEO. Pichai had chosen to use this case to rationalise Google’s ‘dragonfly’ project. But what really happened back then?
Backgrounds: Both public and private hospitals are legally established in mainland China, and yet nearly 90% of the private ones were owned by several family clans based in Putian, Fujian. We then call this very part of the private hospitals the ‘Putian-xi hospitals’. The Putian-xi hospitals are long being denounced for lack of supervisions, false advertising, exaggerated therapeutic efficacy with unaffordably high costs and poor prognostic outcomes. Despite all these allegations, almost all the Putian-xi hospitals are legally operating with all the licenses required, and some of them have also cooperated with famous public hospitals in the form of setting up ‘contracted departments’ inside the latter with the former being trustees and patrons. They may also buy in stocks of public hospitals to become the latter’s controlling stockholders. The leaders of these Putian clans may even be elected as representatives to the ‘National Congress’ of mainland China. Being a search engine, Baidu has also often been accused of helping the Putian-xi hospitals to promote themselves with false search result advertisements via its advertising auction campaign called ‘Bidding Rank’.
‘The Death of Wei Zexi’ is exactly such a story that compiled by Baidu’s competitors targeted at those false advertisements provided by Baidu. (Although the original condemnation of Baidu’s false advertising behaviour was put forward by Wei himself, Baidu’s competitors like Tencent and other companies were then thrilled to seize the chance to hype it and rake up Baidu’s past at the same time.) They claimed that Wei, a 21-year-old young man who had suffered from a severe and late-staged synovial sarcoma, was lured by a Putian-xi hospital’s false advertisements provided by Baidu, turned to take an immunotherapy treatment called ‘DC-CIK’, drained all the fortunes of his family’s, yet received very poor outcomes of the therapy, and finally led to his painful death. They then also made up some sort of a slogan, calling that ‘Baidu killed Wei Zexi’. Essays condemning Baidu on the death of Wei had then flooded the internet community of mainland China, causing Baidu fell 14 per cent of its market share for a time.
False advertising is indeed to blame, I agree. But there were so many untrue details in the tragedy of Wei. Most importantly, the very treatments he received—although caused his family that huge amount of a money loss that may be called a fraud, and the misleading information of there maybe ‘a cure’ was indeed a fraud—were not totally inefficient. Instead, although never had been standardised and permitted to be used in everyday clinical treatment, this long-be-forgone-in-the-trail-phase ‘DC-CIK’ therapy was proved to have a slightly better or at least equal efficacy compared with other commonly used treatments. The very hospital that Wei had attended to—The Second Hospital of Beijing Armed Police Corps—was not some sort of a small informal clinic. It was, and still is, an operating public hospital, running by the state military, listed as a ‘Grade III Level A’—the highest level that can ever be designated as in the classification of Chinese hospitals. (The hospital was in cooperation with a Putian clan’s company and the latter party had become the former’s holding company back then.) Wei’s attending therapist, Li Zhiliang, was also frequently showing himself on many mainstream media platforms in those days, including CCTV, the predominant state-run television broadcaster of mainland China. It was the ‘endorsement’ of a state-run public hospital and some mainstream media’s coverage that enticed Wei and his family to Li.
What had Baidu done in all of this? Baidu had helped a fully-licensed and legally in-operation top-tier public hospital (and running by the state, don’t forget that) to promote itself in search results through its advertising auction campaign. You may condemn its ‘lack of morality’ in information misleading and advertising a healthcare service provider without thorough verifications beforehand. You may also criticise Baidu for not have listed these healthcare-related contents as ‘restricted’ as Google did. But ‘Baidu killed Wei Zexi’? Really?! With so many parties to be held accountable for and regulations and supervisions to be enhanced, you choose to accuse a legal advertising campaign of a search engine of killing a young man?! It’s ridiculous, and I almost couldn’t help but defending Baidu. (But I am not defending it, and I do not care for Baidu, either. I just believe that we shall never use lies to attack back lies.) What is more ridiculous to me in this is that one may actually be so naive to believe that all would be resolved once Google re-entered the search engine market of mainland China with its ‘dragonfly’ project.
So, could Google ‘save’ Wei? Certainly not! Nor shall Google shoulder this burden. Google is neither a supervisory authority nor a law enforcement department, and it is not Google’s responsibility to verify whether a legally in-operation top-tier hospital is involved in fraudulence or not. Some would say that Google has listed healthcare-related contents as ‘restricted’ in their advertising policy. That’s good. But don’t you belittle the ambitions and the capacity of our Chinese people to bypass the rules set. They can always find their ways to flourish themselves in Google’s search results (even without buying Google’s advertising campaign) by hiring some guys for click farming. Fraudsters may even be boasting themselves of being top-listed in Google’s search results if Google does re-enter the market. Take a tour of the Chinese version of Apple’s App Store if you like, and you’ll see what I’m saying :) Apple has been working very hard on this, yet however Apple changes its policies, those clicking / reviewing zombies will always find their way back. Could Google provide a better solution for this? I doubt about it.
Baidu’s fraudulent advertising has long been complained of for over a decade. Back then, Google hadn’t ‘exit’ from mainland China. Still, it had not made Baidu more ‘moral’. Because it is not a matter of morality—all those frauds, false advertising, misleading information, lack of supervision, etc., they are, after all, our own problems to be solved. As I have said before, that thorough probes shall be launched, regulations and supervisions shall be enhanced, and legislation shall be enacted. But there’s nothing to do with putting the hope on another search engine’s marching into the market. Furthermore, Google may become a new Baidu if we do not work hard to make the environment better.
And do forgive me for cannot resist to point it out that those Baidu users are not ‘victims’. They’re happy Baidu users, Okay? The reason why they use Baidu is that they love using Baidu. It is truly that simple, period. Baidu has always been taking a dominant share in the search engine market of mainland China no matter whether Google’s status here being changed or not. Baidu’s share of the market has been lingering between 60% and 80% all the way long. It had then achieved a 71.03% in Aug 2009 when Google had not declared its exit intention, and an all-time low of 50.69% in Apr 2014 when Google was nearly fully blocked by the mainland Chinese authorities. If we compare the market share that Baidu had taken in Mar 2010 (when Google finally declared its ‘exiting’ from mainland China) and what is Baidu taking today, we’ll see that there’s only a 10 per cent rise. In other words, Baidu’s market share has nothing to do with Google’s. The users have chosen Baidu out of their preference, not of lack of choices. Baidu has never been in a situation of lack of competitors—Microsoft’s Bing, for instance, has specifically prepared a tailored version for the mainland Chinese market to compete with, yet unfortunately, it has taken such a low share of the market that has made it been counted as ‘others’ in the following chart.
Don’t get me wrong—like the author of I’m Chinese, Google’s DragonFly must go on, I’m also ‘more than eager’ in hoping that my fellow mainland Chinese could have access to Google’s services. Not only Google Search, but all the services of Google without bundling with censorship or surveillance.
In fact, I have confidence in saying that my eagerness is more earnest than theirs. Because I myself is a fervent fan of Google. I use all kinds of Google’s services every day. I created my (first) Google account back in 2005—when I was 13. Since then, and until today, I cannot find any other email services that are better, or even usable, compared with Gmail. Apart from Gmail and Search, I manage my contacts with Google, set up my schedules with Google Calendar, back up my photos with Picasa and then Google Photos, make phone calls via Google Voice, collaborate with others using Google Docs / Google One and entertain myself when I have time to kill with YouTube and Google Play Music. I miss Google Reader so much that I cannot find any alternatives that can ever bring me a similar experience to it. I even use Google’s Cloud Platform to ‘cross’ the Great Firewall that blocked me from accessing the true internet. I am also a hard core Android user and I always believe that Google is providing a better environment than Apple’s with more freedom in it. For every other service or app I use, the first thing I would do is to check their privacy settings and permission requests to ensure that I have declined every detail of the personal information they may lure me to give. But for Google’s, I choose to accept them all. I’d love to share my information with Google for a better user experience.
In Google I trust. I trust Google more than any other organisations in the world. Therefore, I certainly hope that every mainland Chinese could have access to all Google’s services with no obstacles. I do believe that no-one shall be blocked from using such wonderful services. Any parties that are doing such evil a behaviour of blocking people from using Google shall be solemnly condemned!
But why am I so firmly opposing Google’s new ‘dragonfly’ project?
Well, because it’s not right. There is no proper reason for Google to compromise with the mainland Chinese authorities, no matter how many people are suffering from the latter’s internet blockade. Google has done nothing wrong in this. In fact, among over 200 countries in the world, mainland China is the only one that has blocked all Google services including Google Search—even countries like Iran, Vietnam, Laos, Cuba or Russia are not blocking Google’s search service. In Google’s global disruption index page, mainland China has been got a ‘5’ (and the world’s only ‘5’) since 2014, with Iran is ‘2’ and Congo (Brazzaville) is ‘1’. The mainland China authorities are long being accused of blocking its citizens from accessing mainstream internet services. Apart from Google’s, the blockade list is still very long, including: Archive.org, Change.org, Dropbox, Discord, Facebook, Flickr, FlipBoard, Goodreads, imgur, Instagram, Kobo, Line, Medium, New York Times, Pinterest, Pixiv, Quora, Reuters, Resilio Sync, Soundcloud, Steam community, Tumblr, Telegram, Twitch, Twitter, Vimeo, VOA, W3schools, Whatsapp, Wikipedia, etc. You cannot find any other country in the whole world that is doing such a notorious blockade like mainland China’s. Yes, there is something notorious and there are victims indeed, yet the notorious party is not Baidu, but the mainland Chinese authorities and we are all victims of them! The author of I’m Chinese, Google’s DragonFly must go on has deliberately chosen to shift this core concept to confuse the readers.
Google did nothing wrong. Some may try to overstate the influence of the declaration made by Google by changing the wording to ‘exit’ from mainland China. In fact, on 22 Mar 2010, what had Google declared was only that they ‘stopped censoring our search services’. That’s all. Google didn’t mean to and never has been doing anything to ban the usage of their services from the users of mainland China. Even the mainland Chinese authorities had not chosen that very moment to block all Google’s services. The full blockade of Google was implemented in May 2014.
And, yes, as you may gather in the statement Google published 8 years ago: the ‘dragonfly’ project is nothing new. All those censorship shits were already there. Google had already tried with this sort of shits when they first-time entering the market of mainland China. Yet the mainland Chinese authorities were not satisfied and asked Google to do more in self-censorship. They could even be so shameless in stating that ‘self-censorship is a non-negotiable legal requirement’. There was no, is no, and will never have any written regulations or statutes on what shall be censored—all be carried in the black box and you’re asked to censor yourself. What is the bottom line that would trigger their temper? Not told, just do the speculations by yourself, please. And if you guessed wrong, punishments then shall follow. This will form and has already formed an atmosphere of horror throughout the internet of mainland China that making everyone deliberately lift the unseen bottom line higher in their self-censorship to make themselves feel safe.
Once started, the compromising is a never-ending race. If you choose to flatter the authorities in such ways, your competitors may frame you and fawn over more. This is something that even the ancient Chinese understood, and they said: ‘to propitiate Qin with lands is exactly like extinguishing a fire with wood—the fire won’t be extinguished until the wood run out.’ What I cannot understand is that Google had already tried it once with a Chinese leader, Li Kai-fu, and yet failed it, why should they give it another try? Does Sundar Pichai reckon he could do ‘better’ than Li Kai-fu? And Google wasn’t just compromising with the self-censorship part back then, they even ‘bribed’ the mainland Chinese officials with little tokens like Apple iPods when they first-time tried to enter the mainland China. But what had Google received after its flatteries? Calumniations, humiliations and incursions. And after those, Google cannot stand any more but to ‘exit’.
To compromise is not ‘doing the right things’. On the contrary, it is doing the wrong things. Once give in, people would reckon that you are the wrong party. Otherwise, why are you the compromising one?
So, what is the right thing to do in this?
Well, it’s simple—do nothing. Or to say: non-cooperation. I am not in doubt with Mr Sundar Pichai’s motive of hoping to give the mainland Chinese users access to their excellent services, but ‘dragonfly’ is not the right way. Instead of offering help to the users, you’re holding a candle for the evildoer. It will make the regime reckon that it is rational to keep carrying out such surveillance, censorship and blockade. And by helping to make the biggest fraud in this country and strengthening the information blockade, you are not saving Wei Zexi, but creating more tragedies like Wei’s.
Readers that outside mainland China may have no concept of what a political environment are we living today for that it has changed so much in the recent 5 years. It was in the Hu-Wen era that Google first entered mainland China, the most enlightened and open-minded period of mainland China since the CPC took power in 1949. But now, everything is different. You may have learned from your news about the Xinjiang ‘re-education camps’ and all those shitty things happening there, but there are more, much much more: There were lawyers, hundreds of, have been caught in a sudden roundup in 2015, many of them were then tortured, and some of them are still missing until today. Dissidents, even naturalised into other countries, were lured by their relatives (which were certainly under pressure from the authorities) to come to mainland China and then disappeared. Christians and Catholics were forced to register themselves in some universities and got warned about not allowed to participate in religious activities. Presidential term limits were abolished, and yet no comments but for supporting it is allowed. (Students were even required to defend the abolishment in the 2018’s National Higher Education Entrance Examination!) Professors were not permitted to discuss universal values or constitutionalism with students. Selling services that can bypass the internet blockade will literally lead one be put in jail. Mobiles are being searched randomly on the street for sensitive materials. Websites, services, self-media and bloggers were cracked down or forced to ‘overhaul’ themselves for months to become more ‘devoted’. A girl was taken by several policemen in the small hours only because she reminded her family and relatives in an instant messaging app called WeChat that a swine fever may have spread to their local community… (And I myself may get disappeared for writing this.)
Is Google prepared to compromising with all of these? If you cannot put up with the mainland Chinese authorities in 2010, what gives you the courage and confidence of reckoning you can handle it well in 2019?
I loathe being born into such a country of no freedom of speech, of having to pay about 200 dollars more per year to find ways for accessing Google. Poverty has prevented me from emigrating to a free land. But I know where the core of this is. I won’t be so bold and big-headed to ask Google ‘must’ do anything. And I know that compromise won’t bring anything good. It is true that Google also has no responsibility in fighting against this regime, but please, just do not cooperate with it. Don’t be evil, remember that?
I know that non-cooperation sounds a little downbeat, and yet if we can all stick with that, things may have a slight chance to change. After all, as Rilke once said: Who speaks of victories? Sticking to it is all!