13 January, 2010

Google China to be no more?

Google's (GOOG) foray into China had never gone swimmingly, the "Don't Be Evil" chants turned to scoffs as the company told the world its better to have a censored presence in China than no presence at all. The pitchforks subsided and its been business as usual for the company as it slowly built a base of business, taking on the dominant local Baidu (BIDU).

Having now built a business, that according to analysts represents about 20-25% of the market, Google is becoming entrenched into China's business culture and livelihood. The Chinese Google portal succumbed to Government pressure in the beginning but as new reports have surfaced of cyber-attacks on the search giant, the company is taking a stand for the individual. Gmail accounts of human rights activists, the exact opposite of persona embraced by the Chinese Government, were targeted in a set of complex hacks. Google has taken this breach as an opportunity to exert maximum political pressure in China. By issuing threats that it will completely pull all operations in China, Google is looking to foster a groundswell of individual support to force the Chinese Government into change, most important of which is the curtailing of Internet censorship.

Will it work? History would say no, as China is looked upon as the most vigilant of Governments when it comes to control, censorship and human rights. Google's timing could help shift the needle, but by how much? With a presence now built in China, Google has more influence than it ever had in the region, and perhaps just maybe, a compromise does exist and can be reached.

But what if it can't and Google leaves China for good? Well, that's the worst case scenario for the company as the business opportunity in China is only getting bigger. Analyst reports have pegged Google's China sales at about $600Million, but have highlighted the incredible opportunity that awaits Western companies in this region over the next decade and beyond. Not something that Google could seriously walk away from just like that if it indeed is balancing the needs of Consumers, Shareholders, Employees and its Don't Be Evil mantra.

Right now Investors are trying to figure out the seriousness of Google's threat. Company shares are down about 1%, which is a muted move to a potentially landscape changing decision. Baidu shares on the other hand, are up 11% as the potential to dominate the Chinese search market, without a looming competitor like Google is just too large to ignore.

Something will have to give and at the end of the day the opportunity of capitalism is too great and the pressures from shareholders will force Google's hand to have a presence in China. In the interim, Google's step will be to ensure complete security in its online services to try and isolate and prevent these types of attacks, even if the source may be a Foreign Government, but the smart money has to assume Google and China will be back at the table constantly, working to compromise, making it possible for the Chinese people to see and click on Google Ads for the next decade and beyond.

Disclosure: Author is long GOOG

No comments: