As you probably already know, Google has openly announced that they will take an active stance against internet censoring by China. Google has made their move, and an interesting move it is. I believe it will have huge consequences in the near and far future, perhaps the least important of all being the effect on the freedom of speech in China.
It seems like Google is making a bid for power. They're testing current structure of government, to see how it will react to this kind of attack. Already in China opinions are divided. I've heard from Chinese friends that they think Google's move is a good idea, but they fully expect it to fail. Other news reports show people laying flowers at the Google headquarters in China, and supporting it openly. The Chinese government of course denies that the internet is 'not free' in China to begin with, so not much unexpected happening there.
A more interesting aspect is this: apparently the Chinese government actually hacked Gmail accounts using (besides social engineering and other methods) a bug in IE. Microsoft is quite nice to announce this in public, but this only serves to put Google in the spotlight. After all, Google's browser and e-mail service did not have leaks (?). I wonder if the people at Google found out about the leak in IE, and I wonder if this made Microsoft choose to announce their leak publicly. In the meantime, Gmail's security has been upped to use SSL by default. Note the cause and effect here. I think using SSL by default is a great move, but remember that this kind of situation could be used for evil intent as well. The next time Google decides to 'increase security' people may be less happy.
No matter what the Chinese people think, in the eyes of many Westerners China has been put to shame by the happy transparent internet company. 'Hide nothing' is basically Google's motto, and it's certainly served them well so far. Somehow everything that Google chooses to 'not hide' turns out to be great PR. It really makes me wonder what Microsoft would do in a similar situation: if they would keep quiet and keep their market share in China, or publicly announce it and potentially offend a lot of people. Call me naive, but I think Google has got their priorities right, and they're doing stuff that feels 'good'. The fact that this good-doing only continues to benefit Google is a compliment to their image and their leadership.
We know that Google is not averse to entering new markets: browsers, mobile phones, and let's not forget that e-mail is not (or did not used to be) Google's core business. They're casually showing off fun beta products to their users, who absolutely love it. Including me. Of all the companies I know Google is the only one I have a real positive feeling about. An April fools joke a while back showed Google's plan to go to Mars. Joke it may be, but if they wanted to, I'm sure they could. and since they're already one of the big players in Internet, E-mail, mobile phones and whatnot, why not expand your reach to politics?
Google is potentially the most powerful company in the world right now. Not in terms of finances or resources perhaps, but in terms of influence. Take a look at this China thing: Google knows how to announce it nicely, and how to make a big deal out of it that will turn out in their favor. If other companies follow then Google will actually have an effect on international politics. And who knows, maybe that's what they were looking for: to test their power, to see what would happen if they were to do something world-shocking, or to see if they could perhaps start something that would have consequences on a scale that other companies could never dream of accomplishing.
Perhaps Google is already secretly building their army, getting ready to take over the world. Now that they have basically declared war on China, they can start to take a more aggressive approach. Before you know it, they'll be invading in user-friendly Google tanks, with the Google logo on the side and the word 'beta' in the corner. They'll take over some small country, make it more efficient than it was before, and use that as the starting point to take over the world! Before we realize it Google will be in control of everything we know.
And the world would be a better place for it.
(Aaaa.... conspiracy theories. One of my favorite past-times :D)