Google's 'do no evil' meets reality of business in China

Google's senior attorney made a on Tuesday: The company is seriously considering shutting down its , after the gmail accounts of human rights activists were targeted by an apparently sophisticated attack originating from China.

What do operating a search engine and the cyberattack have to do with each other? According to Chief Legal Officer David Drummond, it boils down to the company's comfort level of doing business in a country in which has strict information controls and demands that foreign companies -- including Google -- abide by them. In the , Drummond said:

Unsaid in the blog post is a direct accusation of official Chinese complicity in the alleged snooping attacks. Nevertheless, it's a major about-face for the company. Google has gotten a lot of flack in the past for , but now it looks like the company is making a principled stand -- or is giving up on a market that it was never able to penetrate as well as Chinese firms.

What happens next? The Chinese government would never publicly admit any wrongdoing in order to woo Google back. Behind-the-scene negotiations are not out of the question, but finding an acceptable middle ground in which Google gets satisfaction on the human rights issue while China gets "face" will be extremely difficult, now that Google has thrown down the gauntlet in such a public matter.

If things don't work out, and Google pulls out, the obvious winners will be and other Chinese companies that operate search engines and other services that Google provides there. The losers: Yahoo, Microsoft and any other Western Internet company unwilling to make a principled stand. And, of course, the Chinese people, who will lose access to one of the best ways of finding information in the world.