« Google puts its foot down. | Main | How not to save the Internet... »

January 17, 2010


Bill Rich

"Why don't we focus on figuring out how to maximize the incentives for a lot more CEO's and government leaders around the world to support a free and open global Internet - for selfish reasons?"

Chinese commentators on this issue will not do this because that is not what they want. The most important task at hand for them is to save face for the Chinese government, and to ensure the world understand the power of the China and that everyone must kowtow to China, or else face the fury from China.


Beautiful piece Rebecca, as usual!
Too many people are looking at the issue in terms of black and white where google is either this or that...

jose murilo

Hello Rebecca,

Great piece! Really enjoyed:

'I've got a suggestion: Why don't we focus on figuring out how to maximize the incentives for a lot more CEO's and government leaders around the world to support a free and open global Internet - for selfish reasons?'

That's what we are trying to do here in Brazil -- to establish the government as hardcore internet user. This "culture of use" includes exploring all of the new interactive possibilities to foster collaborative participation of citizens in the development of public policies. The advantage of using the Internet for 'selfish reasons' can really transform govt's sense of the network as a threat into one of the greatest assets for public projects.

David wrote a nice report on what he saw when he visited us in Sao Paulo (http://migre.me/gNz1).

Thanks for the great (and inspiring) work that you do.


David Dalka

Outstanding, thought provoking post. I wish more people were reading and thinking about the implications of these important issues.

PS You should add the recent Google Local Business Center leak to your growing list, there is an article on my blog, in Information Week and the Register UK.


Thanks, Rebecca: bookmarked, and I'll pass it on. (You write well, too: building suspense, before some of the conclusions.)

I look forward to the GNI's work. I hope they (we?) may help netizens avoid becoming a "hive mind" and let humans retain their (private) individuality (GOOG, YHOO, and MSFT employees included!)

One item I very much hope to see the GNI include is a "Bill of Rights". (I'm not holding my breath, of course.)

I would hope for an item to which you gave some attention: the possibility of secure (i.e. private) storage and transmission of data.

For example, I have, of late, grown tired of "if you want it private, don't put it online." (What? Return to snail mail? NOT!) The USPS doesn't read my letter to Maria. Why should my ISP (or YHOO)?


It is bullshit. Every American believes in human rights including most of the high officials, but still cannot justify what Bush jr. did. Its that simple.

BTW, as everybody says that information if power, is wealth. We don't have free trade and why in reality there should be free information? Isn't it information communism?


If I have to chose between Google and the Chinese government, I chose the U.S. government. I say that to underscore how false your choice is, and how ludicrous it is to posit that our only choice is between an oppressive authoritarian government on the one han, and a predatory behemoth Internet ad agency on the other -- because that is what Google is.

If we're going to suddenly declare Google is a "state" that we can prefer to China, then we can ask Google to have the same kind of separations of power and legislative, executive and judicial branches and checks and balances of a real government. Google is as abusive to bloggers who fall afoul of their arcane ad policies as China is to dissidents -- not in *quality* or *degree of real harm* but in *type* of arbitrary *lack of due process*. And left unchecked, that worsens.

The U.S. is always perceived as having little leverage with China, but we are deeply integrated with massive consumer purchases and visas for students and scholars, and we should use these channels for human right advocacy without fear.

Google acted not because it wished to protect its customers' privacy, which is defeats daily with its massive ad data-scraping mechanisms, but because its property -- its servers -- were encroached. That's all it's about -- company property. The sort of private property that Google doesn't respect when dealing with its own customers and the world at large.

In fact, Rebecca, I feel your critique, like other liberals approaching these issues, is lacking a robust enough grasp of the need for a capitalist system under the rule of law ensuring free enterprise. In fact, I feel an underlying distaste to such a system and a distinct unwillingness to credit the capitalistic system that made a Google possible *itself* and a nation with its democratic laws *itself* as the underlying structures you should be chosing, rather than the forced march to a choice for Google.

"Parliamentary democracy" doesn't appear freestanding without an economic system that allows private as well as public property and free enterprise.

Net Neutrality? One of those badly named movement causes -- it should be called "Subsidized Net Consumption for Some Power Users -- which is a cover for decoupling private property of companies to force the state to take over what a narrow interest group needs for itself. Net neutrality serves not the Bible downloaders invoked by the left in a faux balance exercise, or World of Warcraft patchers so much as it helps the ad agency Google which needs your free access to its Youtube page to see ads. That's why Google and EFF back these campaigns against telecoms the most -- they have vested, capital interests at stake in keeping their workspaces and tools free or very low in cost.

I don't see why governments should favor one monopolistic company over others, and favour Google and its widgeteers over telecoms. Isn't that the corporate handouts that the left is always denouncing?

You are big on invoking the importance of free institutions. But you seem reluctant to concede that these institutions in America persisted even under Bush and will persist after Obama, that the evils of the Bush administration are not enough to offset them and made change possible. Furthermore, you don't seem to back the nation-state's free institutions enough to realize that they are the answer to the future of global governance of the Internet, not a fantasy superstate of Google.

I'm not going to worry about how I can "incentivize" corporations. They take care of that themselves in a free market. Rather, I'm going to go on making vocal denunciations of their caving to authoritarian regimes and urging them to look beyond short-term benefits to the long-term goals of having free customers in free societies who will buy and use their services and products more. Not idealistic enough for you and too crass and commercial? But commerce is what maintains freedom -- including for Google.

While making Google "socially responsible" might seem a laudable goal, I'd rather focus not on beefing up Google as a putative moral being and supra-national benign creature, but concentrate on the rule of law in states and in institutions like the UN.

That's because I think it's a contradiction in terms to expect the ad agency Google which leverages the freemium service of search to make a profit to acquire more morality and responsibility. The bigger and more powerful it gets, the less it will be subject to these moral restraints of itself. Only governments can restrain Google and other Internet giants like Facebook, and they should be working to do this in each country, and internationally in existing institutions.

There's nothing magical about Google's possession of your online time. If anything, it's Orwellian. More national lawsuits need to be launched against Google's abusiveness to its Adsense customers when it arbitrarily takes away accounts; more lawsuits need to be launched by corporations whose documents have been leaked from Googledocs and the EU and other bodies need to enforce privacy laws against Google; more UN and EU and other international condemnation needs to occur when Google caves to oppressive governments. This is where liberal democracy and human rights lie, not in amplifying the power of Google to "become moral".

Let Google sign the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Rebecca, and start with the due process it outlines even on something like their Adsense customers, eh?
People arbitrarily cut off from the service (Google it to see how many of them there are!) don't have the basic rights to face their accused or be notified of the exact charges against them. Only one court case by someone with deep pockets has ever worked to reverse their arbitrary decisions.

Your distaste and reluctance to embrace the potential of your own country's government is a typical disaffection of the left, but it need not hobble all of us. The FCC should not fall for the Net Neutrality shill and should devise policies for a free market of bandwidth as well as rational subsidies of bandwidth without forcing telecoms to absorb all the costs.

Re: "The Internet and the penetration of cyberspace into the lives of a critical mass of people around the world has created a whole new layer of struggle over sovereignty, rights, and legitimacy."

Yes, but you seem to be celebrating the struggle as already won by an elite consisting of yourself and some of your smarter readers and colleagues by your bid to start drafting a constitution!

This sort of statement is rife with potential for abusive by Bolshevik-like advance-guards who think they are smarter and more technically savvy than all of us. I don't need an unelected wired. The unelected wired around the Digital Beltway in Obama's pocket are bad enough.

If you are not one of those people getting all dewey-eyed about Internet governance by the Meterati than you'll have to concede that this "layer" is not one made with anyone's consent, especially in undeveloped countries, but even in developed countries where the titans of web 2.0 and the geeks who make a living from them are not elected or accountable any more than organic governments -- in fact less so, given the power and rigidity of computer code, and the anonymity of coders and Internet users.

I have a suggestion for your Constitution for a Cyber-Nation -- don't write one. If you must, then don't write it as one of the digerati yourself. At least convene a representative assembly that elects a drafting committee. There's no reason to abandon democracy just because you have reached the "meta" layers of cyberspace.

I'm going to read Rosenberg's "Open" essay but from the excerpts you've indicated I'm very troubled. Google is not an open system and its pretensions that it is are false and misleading. It's a secretive company with power over people and institutions that it does not make transparent. It's very search algorithms making so many blogs and businesses live or die are closed to the public. It holds an enormous amount of power without any checks. You don't get to opt *out* of Google's grand scrape of your gmail to serve you ads.

Openness and transparency that are made to scrape the data of a helpless public to the commercial benefit of only one company isn't really open society in the historic sense, which has to do with the ability for competing powers to balance out and for the public commons to be maintained fairly.

Just as all those communist governments that abused the term "People's Democracy" were completely illegitimate, so any "people's cyberspace government" will be discredited on the face of it. The real hope for restraint of the Internet oligarchs like Google, Twitter, Facebook, ebay, etc. is to have national governments with democratic legislatures and independent judiciaries pass laws to restrain them in the interests of the public.

Bruce Kesler

Rebecca: Great essay, but it doesn't address the role of other US hi-tech companies, like CISCO, profiting more from selling its wares to despotic states to "control" (i.e., repress) Internet freedoms.

Craig Simon

I think a key task is the challenge of developing fair and massively scalable online participation systems. No post-Westphalian or extra-territorial polity would be able to claim democratically-based legitimacy without such a system in place.

Also, as someone who's thought about Internet Governance-related issues for some time, I invite you to have a look at http://www.rkey.com/essays/diss.pdf and http://www.rkey.com/essays/Simon_DCI_02.pdf.


Well done and on point!

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo

Global Voices

  • Global Voices Online - The world is talking. Are you listening?

  • Donate to Global Voices - Help us spread the word
Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 10/2004


My book:

Consent of the Networked
Coming January 31st, 2012, from Basic Books. To pre-order click here.
AddThis Feed Button