Facebook And Google: Who’s The Good Guy?

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Google gets praise for standing up to China, while Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has unleashed a storm of protest over privacy. It’s not so simple, says Peter Judge

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg got a pasting for his gauche comments about security earlier this week, and Google got grudging praise for standing up to China. But who is really the good guy?

In the privileged world of the Web 2.0 Crunchie Awards, Zuckerberg, seemingly unaware of how it would sound said, more or less, that people just don’t really need privacy any more. They’d rather share their stuff with their friends: “People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people.”

It was stunningly naive statement of how Zuckerberg wishes things would be, and how things might become. The new Facebook, with its glossy reassuring privacy options, is designed to convince the ordinary user that privacy is something that has been sorted, and which can now be ignored, rather than something which should be understood.

Zuckerberg could never say something like that in China. There, over-sharing isn’t an embarassing faux pas. If you are a dissident or a human rights activist, your privacy can be a matter of life and death.

So kudos to Google for standing up to the Chinese authorities, and questioning a deal it did four years ago, to censor its search results. The move came after Chinese Google Mail users had their accounts attacked.

But it’s more complicated – Google’s move came a day after criticism from Chinese authors that their rights were being infringed by Google’s project to digitise books – a project that’s also been criticised by the US government – and of course, rival Amazon.

More pointedly, everyone has also been asking why Google went into the deal in the first place. Microsoft apparently responded to pressure from bloggers and fixed a so-called “bug” which slanted its search results the way the Chinese government would want.

Google insists that it did a deal with the Chinese government in the hope of encouraging the country to become more open, by giving it a taste of what the Internet can provide – an attitude which in its way seems as naive and self-seeking as Zuckerberg’s attitude to privacy.

And let’s not forget that, of the two, Facebook is the one that has been banned in China.

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