Google learns how to say alligator tears in Chinese

Google has “threatened” to pull out of China because – SURPRISE – the government was using Goog to get info on dissidents.

NAHHH? Really? Next you’ll tell me that Mark McGwire was using steroids.

Google … said that the company had discovered massive cyber attacks against itself and numerous other foreign companies that it said emanated from China. It prompted quick response from human rights advocates, who praised Google’s statement, and from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who said Google’s allegations "raise very serious concerns and questions." "We look to the Chinese government for an explanation," Mrs. Clinton said on a visit to Hawaii. "The ability to operate with confidence in cyberspace is critical in a modern society and economy."*

Apparently The Googsters draw some sort of distinction between oppression via hacking and oppression via cooperating with government censorship. (See Google continues to be on cutting edge of hypocrisy theory for more on this. “At this point, it would take a mashup of Wittgenstein, Quantum mechanics and LSD to make sense of Google’s various explanations for what it will and won’t censor and why.”)

Not only is Google threatening to take its business and go home but the company took the “too little, too late” step of ending censorship on its Chinese search site. Previously the company 404’d searches on topics like Taiwan or the Tiananmen Square massacre. Were I a more cynical person (it could happen) I’d find it mightily convenient that Google is threatening to leave a nation where it is running a very distant second. I’d also call this threat a great PR move that generated a lot of attention in China. Fortunately I am not that cynical. (Thankfully others are: see this brilliant analysis from TechCrunch “Does anyone really think Google would be doing this if it had top market share in the country?”)

*While La Clinton is a diplomat and has to say things like this raises “very serious concerns and questions,” it is difficult to see my government get so worked about this when it has remained silent on little things like state-sponsored murder and torture. What seems to be different this time is that money is involved.

See related links:

“Smartbook Says Bloggers Can’t Use The Word Smartbook Anymore. Smartbook.”

I really can’t top that TechCrunch headline.

For most of us, the term ’smartbook’ (a device that’s somewhere in between a smartphone and a netbook) is nothing but the latest tech buzzword du jour. For German company Smartbook, however, it’s apparently a chance to score some free publicity by vigilantly defending a multinational trademark and threatening to sue everyone who dares use it in conversations.

Smartbook AG has also targeted media outlets who use the word generically to describe some next-generation devices. For instance, electronics industry newspaper EE Times has removed all references to the word, and even downright deleted an article that dealt with the legal threats put forward by Smartbook against the media company…Now it appears the company is actively going to pursue international bloggers and press too, no longer limiting themselves to those in German-speaking countries.

There’s a very technical marketing word to describe this situation: FAILURE.

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Headline of the Day: How Google Can Take the High Road on Privacy

Mr. Orwell! Mr. Orwell! Call for Mr. Orwell!

orwellMeanwhile Google played their hand brilliantly. They unveiled OpenSocial taking the “open” high ground and a lot of wind out of Facebook’s sails (to mix some metaphors!). And with Facebook aligned with the old Evil Empire Microsoft, Google has a chance to recover their “Do not be evil” aura.

If they also take the high road on privacy, they will blow the competition out of the water. They can do this because they can afford to; and their competition cannot afford to. They don’t need to amass lots of information about me to serve relevant ads to me. As long as I keep on searching, Google knows my intentions. Sure they could offer something even more powerful if they track and synthesize all my searches in the last 3 months, but at what cost in terms of spooking and alienating me? For what marginal extra value to an advertiser?

So Google could back the “Do Not Track” legislation and comit to more rigorous restrictions on search history.

I’m guessing the high road doesn’t go into China where “Do Not Track” legislation means you’ve been disappeared.

Or, as my good friends at They Might Be Giants, put it:

We’re in a road movie to Berlin
Can’t drive out the way you drove in
So sneak out this glass of bourbon
And we’ll go

We were once so close to Heaven
Peter came out and gave us medals
Declaring us the nicest of the damned

This was all written before I came across the following column by Duncan Riley at TechCrunch: “Yahoo in China: An Unfair Attack”

For those who missed it, in short Yahoo was attacked by both sides of politics for complying with a request under Chinese law, in China, to provide information on a political dissident.

The rhetoric was raw; San Mateo Democrat Chairman Tom Lantos called Yahoo moral pygmies, and Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., compared Yahoo’s cooperation with the Chinese government to companies that cooperated with Nazi Germany during World War II.

When it comes to China there are very few who will come to the defense of those who deal with the Chinese Government.

Yahoo’s actions might have been in part wrong morally, but legally they have done nothing wrong, and in a global economy this is even more true.

Mr. Riley misses the one point he might have scored here: That a US congressperson using the phrase “moral pygmy” is the height (and depth) of irony. Congress will take no actions to inhibit the flow of goods and money to China. That is what makes them collectively corrupt, even if individually some may be honest.

Unfortunately Mr. Riley’s statement that although Yahoo! was “in part morally wrong” the company was legally obligated to comply turns an interesting contrarian argument into logical nonsense.

How do we define degrees of moral wrongness?

This isn’t exactly a case of the poor man stealing a loaf of bread to feed his family. This is a multinational company placing its profit margin ahead of a person’s life. You can argue that Yahoo has a fiduciary duty to its stockholders not to harm its relationship with the Chinese government. True. This is why companies are run by people. People are supposed to have a sense of proportion and discretion.

Let’s make no doubt that Yahoo’s actions were legally correct — well except for the law that the company appears to have broken here in the US.

That left-wing publication, the Wall Street Journal, reports on what must have been a fascinating meeting between Yahoo’s CEO and general counsel and the wives of two dissidents jailed because of the company’s disclosures.

After Tuesday’s hearing, Messrs. Yang and Callahan met privately with Ms. Gao and Ms. Yu in a room in the offices of the House Committee. According to Ms. Gao, the two apologized profusely for the company’s role in the jailing of Messrs. Shi and Wang, and pledged to put pressure on the Chinese government to release them.

They also discussed a court case in which the women are suing the company, accusing it of breaking several laws, including one which prohibits U.S. companies from assisting in the commission of torture and other human rights abuses in other countries.

So Yahoo was in an impossible situation. No matter what it did it would be breaking someone’s law. Mr. Riley, which law would you have chosen to follow?

I would like to suggest some reading for Mr. Riley. No, not Amnesty International’s report, that would be too easy. How about the State Department’s?

The State Department’s 2006 China human rights and religious freedom reports noted China’s well-documented and continuing abuses of human rights in violation of internationally recognized norms, stemming both from the authorities’ intolerance of dissent and the inadequacy of legal safeguards for basic freedoms. Reported abuses have included arbitrary and lengthy incommunicado detention, forced confessions, torture, and mistreatment of prisoners as well as severe restrictions on freedom of speech, the press, assembly, association, religion, privacy, worker rights, and coercive birth limitation.

Then perhaps Mr. Riley could read up on one of my favorite law-breakers: Chiune Sugihara, Japan’s consul to Lithuania during World War II. Mr. Sugihara became a criminal when he did not follow orders from his government and issued transit visas to escaping Jews. Mr. Sugihara was totally wrong legally. Yep.

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Headline of the Day: “PayPerPost: Wasting Investor Money While Offending Native Americans”

Why bother gilding the lily? Michael Arrington at TechCrunch says all that needs to be said:

Ah, PayPerPost. The controversial Florida-based startup that is leading the effort to tarnish the blogosphere makes another PR blunder. And this one’s a whopper. The company has been chronicling their startup days on a video blog called RockStartup. There have been some embarrassments before with the video blog – such as when a viewer noticed that the company had purchased $700 chairs for employees with investor capital and then yelled at a painter for standing on one (CEO Ted Murphy… later said the chairs were purchased used). But the most recent episode is where the company really takes the cake. All employees of the company were taken on an all-expenses-paid trip to Club Med, where as far as I can tell they spent their time getting drunk and dressing up as Native Americans, complete with lots of red face and body paint.

Yeah, making fun of the victims of genocide. Now that’s funny.

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Hurray for Steve Jobs!

It’s not just anybody who can take the most successful product release in years and figure out a way to turn it into a total PR disaster. Not for nothing is the man lauded as an innovator.

For reasons that no one quite understands, yesterday Apple cut the price of the Jesus Phone by $200. While Mr. Jobs’ explanation was that this was to increase sales during the holidays some found this about as believable as the latest rationale for start of the George W. Bush Desert Classic.

Some analysts weren’t as convinced of Apple’s stated reason for the price cut. “It’s an extreme move. It speaks to some desperation,” said Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies, a Wayland, Mass.-based technology research firm.

Yeah, I didn’t understand it either. If it’s selling well at $600 why cut the price? The other rational explanation besides desperation is Mr. J senses a downturn in the economy but if the economy hits the skids who really will be dropping four bills on a phone? (Note well: I WANT ONE! Two friends of mine have them and I am losing my mind with envy.)

But that little question of why the price drop has of course now been totally eclipsed by angry iPhone buyers who are asking why they had to pay the full fare on the darn thing.

Mr J. released a statement yesterday apologizing to them:

“(We) need to do a better job taking care of our early iPhone customers as we aggressively go after new ones with a lower price,” he said. “Our early customers trusted us, and we must live up to that trust with our actions in moments like these.”

That would be more touching if Apple had ANY track record of actually engaging in customer service. My theory about Apple has always been that they make their products so user-friendly because they never want to deal with the customers again. (And I speak as a mostly content iPod owner.)

nokiaMy hat is off to the marketing department at Nokia for moving quickly and taking advantage of all the kerfuffle.

They’ve taken out ads on Google that suggest users check out Nokia’s new Mosh mobile social network. The ads, which appear for searches on “iphone price drop,” say “Sorry, Early Adopters” and suggests they salvage their iPhone experience by checking out Mosh.

BTW, check out Matt Dickman’s post about Nokia’s response at his excellent blog Techno//Marketer. Unlike mine, it is actually informative.

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Drug co. wants substance abusers to get hooked on its MySpace page

pillsReckitt Benckiser Pharmaceuticals DOESN’T WANT YOU TO ABUSE oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine and methadone. That’s why they have started the MySpace page Addiction411. It has nothing REPEAT nothing to do with Reckitt making Suboxone and Subutex, which are supposed to fight painkiller addiction.

TechCrunch nails it: “If MySpace wants to be serious about addressing the issues facing its users, they should put up a non-sponsored resource. The function of Addiction411 is to sell more drugs, not necessarily to help users.