Google founder says internet freedom under threat

Internet freedom under threat” – Google founder Sergey Brin (Guardian article)

I was going to fire off a quick tweet about this, then had second thoughts. It’s a bit more complicated than it seems. Let’s just review what Brin is arguing.

The “threats” Sergey Brin talks about in the article are:

  • governments trying to control information and access
  • entertainment industry crackdowns on piracy
  • “restrictive walled gardens” such as Facebook and Apple

So, on (i) and (ii), I’m going to broadly agree with him. Whether it’s the UK government trying to get access to all our online conversations, or China or Iran restricting what their citizens can see, I’m against it. Although even here there’s grey area, as when Germany tries to restrict the sale of Nazi memorabilia on eBay. Remember that? Pro or con? You can make good arguments both ways.

However, let’s talk about his third point. Brin’s criticizing Facebook for being too restrictive with access to the users and data it has. Well, maybe. But what does this actually mean? In Brin’s world, Facebook is evilly sitting on data it’s collected, and refusing to share, locking away information that Google could use. But in another version, Facebook is trying to protect data that users have entered on Facebook but chose NOT to share publicly. Remember, Facebook gets regularly slammed for not protecting privacy enough.

So, when Brin complains that Facebook is restricting internet freedoms, is he talking about restricting your freedom to share what you want with who you want? Or his freedom to get any information he wants about you to make profits selling advertising?

I’m not a huge Facebook fan, although I am a frequent Facebook user. There are many issues with Facebook. And there are good arguments for avoiding monocultures where everyone is locked in to using one company. But I don’t necessarily think that Facebook should have to open up my data because Sergey Brin wants it. Sorry, Sergey.

UPDATE: I’ve just been reminded what Google did when it tried to start a Facebook-a-like, Google Buzz. It began by making all your GMail contacts public.

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