Google is participating in an initiative to develop voluntary guidelines for how Internet companies should respond to censorship demands in countries like China, said Tony Cruz, the Amnesty International member who presented the proposal. While that's a step in the right direction, he said, Google still hasn't made any improvements since its launch in China.
"We've seen little more than talk and defensiveness from Google since the problems emerged," he said. "Nothing precludes Google from taking steps to ameliorate this problem while conversation about the standard goes on."
Harrington Investments submitted a related proposal that was also voted down. It would have created a human rights committee at Google to review the implications of company policies on human rights.
Brin defended Google's activities in China. "Google has a far superior track record than other search companies with respect to making information freely available," he said. He may have been referring to Yahoo, which turned over information to Chinese authorities that led to the imprisonment of a writer.
Google was initially reluctant to launch a service in China because of the difficult environment there, Brin said. "We had reservations that the restrictions we had to live by were not consistent with our policies," he said. "But we were able to have an implementation that honored many of our principles."
He boasted that Google's policies have influenced those of Baidu, the leading search provider in China. Baidu began indicating to users when it had omitted information by request from the government after Google started doing the same, he said.
Brin said that revenue potential isn't what drove Google to enter the Chinese market. "Our primary goal in countries like China isn't to generate as much revenue as possible," he said. "We could abandon it tomorrow and not have a material effect on revenue. Our goal has been what's the most positive we can do."
That explanation didn't seem to placate everyone in the room. Another Amnesty International member said he appreciates the difficulty of the situation in China, but Google hasn't gone far enough.