Not everything Google does is related to China dispute

Without questioning the severity or significance of the Chinese attacks on Google and other companies, the huge attention focused on this incident seems to be influencing all coverage of Google, whether or not the topic in question has anything to do with the attacks.

It still seems a bit coincidental that Google’s stated intention to stop censoring search results on was sparked by the recent attacks. Perhaps the hacks were just the straw that broke the camel’s back, but as long as three years ago Google’s executives had publicly questioned the wisdom of the company’s decision to support the content censorship requirements demanded by the Chinese government when Google first entered the China market. The conventional wisdom on Google’s decision to end its censorship program is generally positive, apparently even if it means Google will have to cease business operations in China. There is a vocal minority however that is suggesting Google’s decision is driven more by conventional business factors (market share, growth potential, etc.) than by moral or ethical principles.

The situation so dominated coverage of Google and other affected companies over the last several days that in reporting other significant actions or announcements made by Google, many in the IT press can’t seem to help drawing associations to the attacks even where none exist. A news summary distributed by IDG News Service yesterday is a good example: in the summary of an article about Google’s plan to propose that the European Union’s Article 29 committee create a security and privacy panel, the China attacks were mentioned as a driver for the proposal:

Google says that the recent hack of its Chinese operation shows why it needs to retain user search data and will this week call on the Article 29 Working Party to establish a privacy and security panel to encourage productive dialogue on the proper use and protection of such data, PCWorld reports. “You can’t discuss privacy in a vacuum,” said Google global privacy counsel Peter Fleischer. Google retains search users’ full IP addresses for nine months. “We find it incomprehensible that a company would throw away useful data when holding it poses no privacy threat,” Fleischer said.

The above version of the summary was included in the January 20 Daily Dashboard of the International Association of Privacy Professionals. The following day’s edition included a note that IDG News Service had modified the story because, as IDG explained it, “Due to a misunderstanding with a source, the story posted linked Google’s stance on retaining search data with unrelated attacks on its corporate infrastructure.” It’s hard to fault anyone in the trade press for having the China attacks on their minds whenever they hear “Google” but perhaps the members of the media would do well to remember the maxim from statistics: correlation ≠ causation.