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This case study discusses the agreement between Google and the Government of China. The deal is for the allowance of a Chinese version of the search engine subject to the condition that Google should agree to comply with China’s internet standards, including censorship of subversive political articles and terms such as ‘democracy’ and ‘human rights.’ This move is opposed to Google's open-access policy. An outcry from U.S. citizens broke out for Google to reviews its actions.
Christopher Grogan and Jeanne Brett
Harvard Business Review (KEL242-PDF-ENG)
January 01, 2006
Case questions answered:
Provide a complete analysis of the ethical dilemmas facing Google over time, including the deal with the Government of China, and the actions they have taken in the face of these challenges. Also, include your personal assessment of the situation and the advice you would give to the board of directors moving forward.
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Case answers for Google and the Government of China: A Case Study in Cross-Cultural Negotiations
Google and the Government of China: A Case Study in Cross-Cultural Negotiations
This case study looks into the deal between Google and the Government of China for a Chinese version of the search engine and other ethical issues that the company was faced with over the years.
Ethical Dilemmas Facing Google
Thanks to its widely-used search engine, Google has become one of the most well-known corporations and has entered the English lexicon as the popular verb “to Google.” In addition to providing users the ability to access unlimited troves of information and resources free of charge, Google also provides storage-heavy email, video, and document services.
However, despite the benefits reaped from their tools and the company’s motto, “Don’t be evil,” Google has been the focus of numerous scandals due to alleged unethical and illegal behavior.
Ethical issues that Google has been implicated in include user privacy breaches, unlawful information collection and distribution, and compliance with Chinese internet censorship.
In the face of these challenges, Google has been forced to defend itself and make company changes to policy to continue operations. The following will address these ethical dilemmas in detail and provide insight into their resolutions and implications.
One of the major and most prevalent qualms against Google is their alleged violation and exploitation of user privacy.
With the advent of unlimited information online, it becomes difficult to draw a distinct conclusion on how to ethically distribute resources free of charge while remaining profitable.
A significant point of contention that Google has faced is its targeted advertising based on content in their email service Gmail. According to 2019 data collection, about 1.5 billion people use Gmail.
However, despite its popularity, users complained that targeted advertising techniques invaded their privacy and were concerned that Google workers were reading their personal emails.
The company responded that emails were analyzed not by humans but by computer programs, and advertisements were limited to non-sensitive subjects but would include political content.
Another issue arising is the storage of such user data, as this violates the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which states that organizations cannot mine user data within given safety reasons.
The question of whether or not such behavior is ethical is a complex one since, to remain relevant, a company must generate revenue while being ethically sound.
To provide worldwide users access to free email and storage, Google must create a profit, which like most internet companies, is done through click advertising. For this to be most effective, advertisements should be related to products or services of most interest to users.
As a result, one could argue that users uncomfortable with their correspondence being used for targeted marketing could cease using Gmail and resort to other email services.
Furthermore, since Google informed users of this type of data collection via a press release, it would be inaccurate to state that Gmail users were duped. Their information was collected without their knowledge.
However, Google promised to cease email mining for targeted marketing in June 2017, allowing users to opt-out of this in their settings. In 2019, Google further extended this to the elimination of political ads.
Accordingly, my advice to the board of directors would be stress disclosure, with information sent to new users regarding targeted advertisements. This would allow all users to know how their information will be used, giving them the chance to close their accounts if they are unsatisfied with Google policy.
Another example of privacy issues faced by Google is the development of their social media platform Google Buzz.
When users created a Buzz account, they were automatically given a group of friends based on their email and chat contacts. This quickly proved problematic as friend information was made public, which became risky for those involved in illicit activities or those whom information privacy was important.
Google retaliated these claims by claiming that many users…
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