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Google & China at High Noon: Making Difficult Decisions

google chinaAccording to Google the Chinese government mounted a cyber-attack against them (and 20 other companies) in order to steal intellectual property and gain access to Gmail accounts held by vocal human rights activists.

Google lashed back by un-censoring their site. This means that Chinese citizens, as of right now, can log on to and find links to information that the Chinese Communist Party wants blocked (i.e. anti CCP sites, porn, etc.) If Google doesn’t censor it’s searches soon, China may block Google for good.

Now the standoff begins.

If Google pulls out of China they will lose a lucrative short-term business (roughly $60 million this year alone!) and countless long-term opportunities. They won’t have time to grow with the China market, learn from it, and adapt. Nor will they be able to sell their new phones in China. The losses will be very real for Google.

China stands to irk a minority of Chinese netizens and draw negative international attention to their “Great Firewall“. They don’t stand to lose much more.

Analysts are already predicting that the two sides will meet in the negotiating room, reach a deal, and come back to their respective camps bragging about their victory–as things go back to normal.


Google’s leadership does not want to lose China’s business completely, but they also need to protect their brand and intellectual property. If China conducts another cyber-attack they could potentially lose their unique search algorithm while putting every Google user account at risk. However, if China pledges that it won’t tamper with Google anymore on the conditions that they begin censoring their searches again, Google stands to expand their business albeit in the process of tainting their “Don’t be evil” mantra. Google has to walk a very thin line and so far they are doing it deftly.

Making Tough Choices

Leaders are often faced with tough decisions that can’t be resolved by mapping out pros and cons and engaging in long debates. Sometimes choices have to be called from the gut. Google’s leadership knows that it could be turning their backs on a huge market in order to protect its intellectual property and users. What they do decide to do won’t be based completely on logic. At one point someone will have to make a decision in the dark and stick with it.

Making a decision isn’t always a fact-finding mission. Sometimes it requires following your instincts. Google’s predicament helps us see that making decisions on new playing fields requires just as much intuition as it does due diligence.

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