By Evan Fischer
It seems like you can’t walk outside these days without hearing about some new project that Google is working on. They’re starting a social networking site to rival Facebook and a music store that will compete with iTunes. Or they’ve created a car self-driving car and they’re working to log a million hours of driving time with no accidents or human interference. They’ve got a laptop, a phone, a cloud network, and just about any other technological innovation you can think of. What’s next, a replicator that can give you any food item you request on the spot and a transporter beam that takes you to work in the blink of an eye? Okay, so that’s a little far-fetched, but how about a data center in Hong Kong that could just be the first step towards reversing censorship in mainland China?
You may recall an incident between the internet giant and the Chinese government just over a year ago in which Google stated that they would no longer censor materials for their search engine operating in the communist country (Google.cn). This was predicated by an incident in which Google’s mail server, Gmail, was hacked into by no less than twenty cyber-terrorists working cooperatively with the intent of breaking into the accounts of known human rights activists (not only within China, but also in the UK, the US, and other countries).
Of course, the People’s Republic of China wasn’t too pleased with Google’s pronouncement since there are strict laws governing “questionable” content. And although Google attempted negotiations for a time, they basically ended up rerouting all traffic through their Hong Kong site (since this liberal, some might say “westernized” city has far fewer restrictions in place). And indeed, it is in Hong Kong that Google has decided to drop the astronomical sum of $300 million to build a brand new data center to beef up their operations in Asia Pacific and manage the massive volume of users that is growing by the day.
The complex is set to be up and running early in 2013, and it’s just one of three new facilities planned in the Asian region, with structures in Singapore and Taiwan to follow (each one with an estimated budget of $100 million). Considering that Asia is one of the fastest-growing regions in terms of internet usage, this move should come as no surprise. And with the US economy still in a slump and Europe on the brink of total financial collapse as countries go belly up one after another like dominos, it seems that expanding into a growing market is a capital idea (pardon the pun).
There is certainly a call for what these data centers can offer, from colocation hosting for third parties to increased speed and accessibility for Google users. And with high quality tech moving into the Asian market from outside companies, the demand for internet services is only going to increase. But what does this mean for Google’s future presence in China? As Thomas Jefferson famously said, “When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.” If enough people want the information that the outside world has to offer (and now that they’ve had a taste, they almost certainly do), they’ll go to just about any measure to secure the liberties they feel they deserve. Perhaps Google’s presence in nearby Hong Kong will help to drive that message home to the government that gave them the boot.
Evan Fischer is a freelance writer and part-time student at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, California.