Google and the Prime Directive
"Information is moving—you know, nightly news is one way, of course, but it's also moving through the blogosphere and through the Internets."As multinational companies transition to becomeglobally integrated enterprises, information is going to move across nationalboundaries. Laws that pertain to how data is stored and access need to be addressed.
Jon W Toigo over at DrunkenData.com discusses an Interesting proposal on Google Censorship. The New York Sun reports that NYC comptroller, Williams Thompson Jr. istargeting both Google and Yahoo over theirpolicies of abiding the local laws in each country they do business in.The proposal includes asking Google to fight local laws, publicize when Google complies withlocal laws, and publicize when local governments ask Google to comply with their laws. While Toigo focuses on Google, this issue applies to Yahoo, Microsoft, and many other companies that do business in multiple countries.
I admire when government officials use diplomacy to influence the policy of other governments, andwhen individuals act to influence the policies of those who govern them, but Thompson isdoing neither.In this matter, Thompson is trying to influence thepolicies of another government outside his jurisdiction, as a manager of investments in companies that do business there.Investors have two choices when trying to influence how companies do business.
It appears Thompson is exercising the latter, proposing that this issue be brought to shareholder vote via proxy.There can only be two results from such a vote, either:
Did we forget that we have censorship in the USA as well? Would Thompson's proposalsapply to the rules and regs that our own government requires?
IBM does business in most, not all, countries on this planet. In the countries we don't do business in, we havegood reason not to. For the countries we do, we comply with all the laws that apply in each case.When I travel to these countries, including some of the countries specifically targeted by this proposal, I must abide by their laws. No exceptions.
The world is shrinking, and technologies now allow companies to become globally integrated. Before writing"The World Is Flat", Thomas Friedman wrote a book titled The Lexus and TheOlive Tree, which covers all the various issues related to conflicts between global companies and the countriesand cultures they do business in.
This reminds me of the wisdom of the Prime Directiveintroduced in the late 1960s on the popular TV show "Star Trek". The concept was simple, honor the sovereigntyof other cultures, on other worlds, and play by their rules when you are on their planet.I say "wisdom" in that it took me years to truly appreciate this idea.Initially, I considered this just a plot device to introduce conflict each time the captain and crew of thestarship "Enterprise" visits a new location, and discovers a culture different than their own. But over the years, as I have traveled to many countries, I began to see and understandthe wisdom of the "Prime Directive", and it applies as much now, in real life, as it did back then in the futuristic 1960s TV show.
Who are we to say that our way of doing things is the one and only way to do them?