According to The Wall Street Journal, the companies "have agreed to a common set of principles for how to do business in nations that restrict free speech and expression, as the companies seek to combat criticism that they have helped enable censorship in those countries." Absent from the deal are all of the major local search engines in nations that might be viewed as "oppressive" when it comes to open speech rights.
The news is a fine example of companies attempting to do good while hurting their shareholders. While the three big U.S. search companies champion U.S. values with rules, companies like Baidu (NASDAQ: BIDU) in China and Yandex in Russia will continue to expand their market share by playing ball with officials. What government that wants to support censorship is going to let "holier than thou" U.S. companies get more access to their markets?
U.S. search engines do well, to the extent that they can, in markets that are repressive because they offer some outside access to information even if their results are often censored. Pushing "free speech" rules in the face of local officials is hardly a way to keep whatever access they have to citizens in these nations. And it loses them market share and money. It is, in short, a waste.
Douglas A. McIntyre is an editor at 24/7 Wall St.