First Google refused to continue censoring its Chinese search engine. Now the company is helping a Congressman rebuke China's authoritarian regime for human rights violations. It all just confirms that Sergey Brin is by far our favorite top Googler.
Yes, Google's reversal on China is belated and self serving, precipitated by a deepening hacker war with the country. But it's also a rare and potentially influential move, a praiseworthy break with its corporate past.
It also appears to have momentum; The Hill reports that Google is now actively helping Rep. Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican, craft a bill that goes after corporations he dubbed "chief violators" of human rights in China, including Google, banning them from storing personally identifiable information about users within oppressive regimes. Google opposed the bill in 2006 and now supports it.
We'll assign ultimate credit to Brin, who shares power with co-founder Larry Page and CEO Eric Schmidt. Brin, after all, was the one who pushed to stop censoring Google's Chinese search engine, according to the Wall Street Journal, arguing that Chinese hack attacks against human rights activists meant it was time to stand up to the regime:
[CEO Eric] Schmidt made the argument he long has, according to these people, namely that it is moral to do business in China in an effort to try to open up the regime.
Mr. Brin strenuously argued the other side, namely that the company had done enough trying and that it could no longer justify censoring its search results.
Brin's thinking on repressive governments is shaped by direct experience: His family emigrated from the Soviet Union after battling anti-semitism there, according to John Batelle's The Search.
He's also served as a sort of guardian of the company's "Don't be Evil" motto, according to both the Journal and Batelle.
Page has reportedly supported that ethos, too, but of the two co-founders Brin is the more affable. The sociable Stanford PhD candidate met co-founder Page, in fact, while leading a tour of San Francisco hotspots for younger, incoming students. Meanwhile Page stars in more than his fair share of anecdotes that paint him as humorless or vain, whether it's an insider complaining about a lengthy tantrum or a visiting executive put off by his passive-aggressive arrogance. (Disclosure: Among the stories we've heard about Page was one in which he supposedly said he'd like to buy and shutter Valleywag after our coverage of his wedding to model Lucy Southworth. So we're hardly unbiased observers.)
That's an unfair judgement against Page, perhaps, but it doesn't change the fact that there's plenty to admire about Brin — now more than ever.