The other day Google's founding leader Sergey Brin was sounding the alarm about Internet freedom being "more at threat than ever" -- and The Guardian obliged with a headline, "Battle for the Internet".
But what he means is that Google's business model sucking up $15 billion dollars' worth of the online ad business every year is threatened. That's all. No need for alarm.
Internet freedom is in jeopardy in Belarus, because the tyrant there tells even people he was forced to let out of jail like Zmitser Bandarenka that he cannot work on his independent news site charter97.org or that he has to agree to accept some KGB goon as an employee along side him. That's the threat to Internet freedom. The threat to Internet freedom is Azeri journalists who published on the web being beaten and jailed.
It's not about Google facing possible friction in their endless free flow of other people's information to help them sell click ads -- hence Brin's woeful wail -- which had a great deal of fancy footwork and sleight-of-hand:
He said he was most concerned by the efforts of countries such as China, Saudi Arabia and Iran to censor and restrict use of the internet, but warned that the rise of Facebook and Apple, which have their own proprietary platforms and control access to their users, risked stifling innovation and balkanising the web.
"There's a lot to be lost," he said. "For example, all the information in apps – that data is not crawlable by web crawlers. You can't search it."
I found that OUTRAGEOUS.
But not surprising, as I predicted a year ago that Google would begin to howl sooner or later that they don't own the ap and mobile space search -- it happens largely without them. I figured they'd get to own it, but apparently it isn't as easy as it seems (good!).
And Google has always bitched about the walled gardens of Apple and Facebook where they can't get their "open-source" nose under the tent. Good! Not everything has to be scraped and ad-served by Google! We need more diversity and we need walled gardens that have op-in rather than opt-out. Stifling innovation?! Nonsense! He means cramping the ability of Google's products like Youtube to be able to shake down content creators first and make ad revenue from them before reluctantly turning back their monetarizing capacity in their IP. Last year, Google's CEO admitted in Congress, they received 5 million takedown notices, and complied with 75 percent of them. (The remaining 25 percent probably just didn't have good lawyers.)
So under colour of pretending to care about Egypt or China, Brin is bitching about the fact that search calls on aps happen without his monster Big Ad Agency wrapped in a thin free search utility upon which the world has been forced to rely.
The Google business interest lobby also got to Danny O'Brien at Committee to Protect Journalists (and that wasn't hard to do as he used to work for Electronic Frontier Foundation), who came back from a big "multi-stake-holders" meeting in Canada recently wailing that the Internet was going to be "taken over by the telecoms" because mobile is becoming so ubiquitous.
You know why I say "good"? Because these are older, mature companies that have a long history of both keeping the privacy of their customers and cooperating with law-enforcement in such a way that they get the criminals caught, but don't piss off law-abiding customers with needless exposure.
Danny says the opposite, seeing their century of service as sinister:
Those telcos will be collecting centrally a profound amount of information on us all via our locked-down devices and their monopoly-provided celltowers – what we read, where we are, who we meet, and who exactly we are. Such giant telcos had almost a century of complicity with states in handing that data over. No matter how much we talk about who should be in charge of the net in the 21st century, it is they who will be in charge.
A century of complicity? Good lord, it wasn't until Google came along that there was any hatred of *your telephone company* and more than there is hatred of your water or electricity company. Maybe because they behaved like utilities instead of a magic fairy realm that only geeks can code and control? Maybe because they made things easy to use and provided customer service? And when was the last time you read a scandal that...Verizon leaked its customer data or AT&T refused to turn over phone records to law-enforcers chasing terrorists?
Google isn't like that. Google has a lot of nerve sounding the alarm on Internet freedom when they're being fined by the FCC (a mere wrist-slap) for privacy issues around the Google Street View data-scraping, and facing privacy actions by the EU. In fact, all this Guardian issue is, is a PR stunt to address their bad cred in Europe primarily right now.
I've always said that whatever is wrong with the telecoms, and whatever is venal about their business, they are a bulwark against Google's predatory practices. It's not ideal, living among predators, but it's better to have several of them that keep each others' populations in check. That gains more freedom for all of us.
It's really awful of Danny O'Brien to posit "feeling a lot of love in this room" at this elite conference which included him, naturally -- imagining a utopia of military, law-enforcement, Bush Administration officials worried about piracy, himself, as a "scrappy NGO", network engineers, etc. -- all watched over by machines of loving grace -- and then decide that the telcos are the villain that they all need to unite against. Ugh.
The Guardian is also right to call out another aspect of the Google wail -- it's about the upcoming IPO of Facebook, and the sense of competition this walled garden creates for them. Good! Google doesn't need to be everywhere. It's particularly bad at social networks as we see from the awful G+. I only go on G+ these days if I've drunk a glass of milk for toxicity and I'm reading to battle various nasty geeks on the issue of the day -- because that's all that populates the thing. I wonder if the Goog didn't just create this thing to better shake down data out of their own employees and guild more than anything.
The comments under this piece are largely negatively, however; one called Brin "Clinton's poodle"; another said "boo-hoo, one billionaire crying about another billionaire" and so on. That geeky cool that Google was always able to hug to itself and shroud over its bad deeds has definitely eroded.
In fact, there was so much backlash, that Brin later said his views were "distorted" (what? by the lefty Guardian? Heaven forfend!) and that he had to set them straight.
Since obviously the problem wasn't the Guardian, and readers who saw immediately he was just dissing walled gardens he couldn't reach in and scrape with his rapacious "open" search. Brin had to do some back-pedalling:
“The primary threat by far to Internet freedom is government filtering of political dissent. … countries such as the US have come close to adopting very similar techniques in order to combat piracy and other vices. I believe these efforts have been misguided and dangerous,”
This made it worse, of course, because it lets us known Sergey -- who, in my view, has always been trying to build Gorky's dream of a Universal Encyclopedia with readers' digests of the great works, out of the Soviet Academy of Science with the help of the Soviet Knowledge Society -- thinks there's a moral equivalence between Belarus, which held my friends for nearly a year and a half because they dared to take part in elections lawfully and run an independent news site, and lawful actions by the US against piracy -- which were thwarted in fact by the Google lobby.
There is nothing similar in these methods even if some technology is similar; if you don't get the nature of the contexts and the differences between independent judiciary and courts in a system like China or Belarus, I can't help you. Hint: Kazakh journalists are beaten and held in jail. Jacob Appelbaum, under investigation for helping steal millions of classified cables, is free and walking around and taunting his investigators. That's only the tip of the iceberg of how it's different. If I have to keep explaining, then you're hopeless.
The puzzle in the Guardian piece -- and this may be an editing garble -- is how Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei is ranting about SOPA. At first I thought -- who put him up to that, Rebecca MacKinnon? Doesn't he get the relationship between private property and securing intellectual property, and privacy and freedom?
Then I went and read the original piece in the Guardian referenced by the other news piece and I saw Ai Weiwei had said nothing about SOPA or the entertainment industry at all.
To be sure, one finds with Internet freedom fighters even under repressive regimes that they can be part of this heedless hands-across-the-sea hipsterism that all the barcampism and Anonymous and Global Voices geekery foster, and may be a hopeless case. They read Zizek and jet around to Google-sponsored conferences in search of "liberatory social change" (not the same thing as freedom). But in fact, it seems truly not to be related to him at all -- just unclear editing.
Someday Brin will pay for his hubris. As one reader noted, MySpace fell, other big services have fallen, they don't last forever.