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Is Google co-founder in ‘digital denial’ about walled gardens and web freedom?

Apr 17, 20125 mins
AppleData and Information SecurityEnterprise Applications

Google co-founder Sergey Brin claimed propriety platforms like Apple and Facebook threaten the open web. Yet critics say the Google+ app is also a walled garden and Brin is either in 'digital denial' or needs Google glasses. Meanwhile the FCC fined Google $25,000 for the Street View car debacle, but cleared the company of violating wiretapping laws.

Web freedom, openness and universal access, are more seriously threatened now than ever, Google co-founder Sergey Brin told The Guardian. Governments, the entertainment industry, Apple and Facebook make up the “very powerful forces that have lined up against the open internet on all sides and around the world. I am more worried than I have been in the past,” Brin stated. “It’s scary.”

It’s about control, government censorship to control access and communication, the MPAA attempting to control piracy, and wall-off platforms controlling access and the software that can be released on their platforms. While I agree the rise of control freaks threatening the freedom and openness of the web is scary, is Brin in “digital denial?” Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) told TechNewsWorld, “Sergey Brin needs a pair of Google glasses that will give some insight into his company’s own ethical problems. He showed an amazing lack of understanding — or is in digital denial about — his own role steering a company which also shares a closed data culture.”

Along the lines of control, censorship, suveillance and tracking, Brin admitted plenty of people are worried about “the amount of their data that was now in the reach of US authorities because it sits on Google’s servers.” He also blasted SOPA and PIPA which “would have led to the US using the same technology and approach it criticized China and Iran for using.” Yet CDD reported that last week Google expanded user tracking in China by launching its Ad Exchange which “will have consequences for both its citizens and consumers.” CDD called upon regulators, as well as privacy and human rights advocates, to demand that Google make its Ad Exchange transparent to determine if its operations will undermine “the growth of democracy, create new forms of surveillance, and negatively impact the environment.”

Brin went so far as to claim that he and Google cofounder Larry Page wouldn’t have been able to create Google if the Internet had been dominated by Facebook and Apple’s proprietary platforms. Such restrictive platforms control access to their users and prevent other companies from mapping all that revenue-making user data. In the interview with The Guardian, Brin said walled gardens risk “stifling innovation and balkanising the web….There’s a lot to be lost. For example, all the information in apps – that data is not crawlable by web crawlers. You can’t search it.”

Yet as Inside Google noted, the Google+ app is also a walled garden. Spencer Belkofer, founder of SEO consultants Lumin Consulting, told TechNewsWorld. “They want to have their cake and eat it too.” Then Consumer Watchdog advocate John Simpson added, “Whenever Google raises the cry of defending Internet freedom, it’s always really about what’s best for Google’s business model.”

Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, pointed out that “Freedom is something a challenger typically asks for; what it wants is an easier path to accessing [the dominant party’s] consumers.” Enderle told TechNewsWorld that Google “is fairly restrictive about what they consider proprietary too. Recall they blacklisted CNet for using Google to gather information on their then-CEO Eric Schmidt.”

Brin, a 38-year-old billionaire, complained “Facebook has been sucking down Gmail contacts for many years.” Yet Forbes asked if the Mountain View giant was more worried about the Internet losing freedom or dropping its cost-per-click rates? CNN wrote, “There’s a profound audacity in Brin bundling Internet censorship in regimes like China, Saudi Arabia and Iran, which restrict user access to the web, with Facebook and Apple’s platforms, which restrict Google’s.” Furthermore Forbes reported, “It’s official: Google today is just where Microsoft was in 1999.” And Senator Al Franken warned about the dangers of antitrust, lumping Google and Facebook into the same privacy-decimating category where “You are not their client, you are their product.”

Meanwhile the FCC fined Google $25,000 for deliberately delaying and obstructing its investigation into the Google Street View project. However, unlike a federal judge, the FCC said that no wiretapping laws were violated when Street View cars eavesdropped and collected payload data on unencrypted Wi-Fi networks.

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ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.