Google, Microsoft, China, Digital Advertising and Human Rights.

It took the equivalent of a Chinese digital Watergate break-in before Google reconsidered its position on China and their anti-democratic and censorious policies.  Google should never agreed to a censored version of itself in the first place.  But China represents what will be the world’s number one online marketing gold mine, irresistible for those in the interactive advertising business.  l hope that Google will actually withdraw from China, until democracy is assured.  But meanwhile, it’s interesting to briefly explore what Google and other online marketing companies are doing in the China market, including Hong Kong.

Google’s research division in China has been investigating “”Large-scale data mining and its applications for information retrieval.”  Google is still, as of today, listing job openings for its China operation. Google’s DoubleClick features its Hong Kong work (as part of its Asia Pacific focus).  [It’s also important to see what kind of data collection might be done by Google’s DoubleClick Ad Exchange in that market].

But policymakers and the public should also focus on Microsoft.  Microsoft has a key research lab on interactive ads based in Beijing; Microsoft Advertising has a major focus on China and online ads. Microsoft and many others research the online behaviors of Asians, including young users.  Yahoo operates in China as well. Finally, U.S. online ad companies focused on data mining are opening up branches in Hong Kong, in order to better position themselves with the Asia-Pacific market.

Google’s withdrawal from China would be a model for other companies–we hope it does it.  But the focus should be on how the online marketing industry at large, including ad giants such as WPP, are facilitating a system that deprives its citizens of their rights.

Author: jeff

Jeff Chester is executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. A former journalist and filmmaker, Jeff's book on U.S. electronic media politics, entitled "Digital Destiny: New Media and the Future of Democracy" was published by The New Press in January 2007. He is now working on a new book about interactive advertising and the public interest.

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