Is Google opening an office in Thailand?
A Bangkok Post article has suggested internet giant Google is set to establish an office in Thailand.
From the piece:
A source, who asked not to to be named, disclosed that Google is also preparing to set up an office in Thailand.
Google has given priority to Thailand since it is the first country in Southeast Asia to launch a local version of Google Maps.
I’m not convinced on this rumour. Here’s why:
Establishing an office in Thailand may give some acceptance to Thailand’s questionable internet ethics, blocking of websites and restrictions on speech online. Google took the high ground in China, can we expect the same shows of ethics and shunning of online restrictions in Thailand?
Unique not priority
Google’s “priority” allocation to Thailand with the Thai-version of Google Maps can be explained by language. Thailand is one of the few Southeast Asian countries whose main language does not use Roman script and so requires a local version.
If you’re looking for priorities, Google Maps has been available in Chinese script since 2007 (see here) – but Google and China is a different matter altogether these days.
Small digital market
Citing the Thai-language maps as evidence of Thailand’s significance is mistaken. Google has made adjustments and taken extra steps in Thailand, for example recently launching its Chrome browser in Thai (with automatic site translation) but digital spending in Thailand remains low, to the point that Vietnam – with half the market – is now on an equal footing and likely to overtake Thailand in terms of digital spend and potential for new business.
Thailand is making positive steps but it is by no means a stand-out digital market, or rapid grower, in the region that would make Google consider the country.
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Throwing all these question marks together makes me doubt the rumour but, with Google focused on localisation and recent investment from Tencent (in Sanook) suggesting the Thai market has potential, perhaps I will be proven to be wrong.
*UPDATE: in further support of my theory (under “ethics”), Google has come out swinging at governmental control of the internet, something Thailand is fast becoming associated with.
Could a company making such strong remarks (below) also be planning to open an office in the country that recent became the first to block 100,000 websites and once blocked (Google-owned) YouTube?
Unlikely, I think you’ll agree.
The below is from a Reuters article this week:
Google Inc’s legal chief called for pressure on governments that censor the Internet, such as China and Turkey, arguing that their blocking access to websites not only violates human rights but unfairly restrains U.S. trade.
The remarks, by Google Chief Legal Officer David Drummond, mark a new economic theme in the Web company’s campaign for an unrestricted Internet, and may inflame a touchy relationship with China, after the company threatened to stop censoring online searches there earlier this year.
“Internet censorship is really a trade barrier, and is operating that way for U.S. companies that are trying to do business abroad,” Drummond said at a public meeting with U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and other corporate executives at Google’s headquarters in California’s Silicon Valley.
“If this were happening with physical trade and manufacturing goods, we’d all be saying this violates trade agreements pretty fundamentally.”