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Web freedom faces greatest threat ever, warns Google's Sergey Brin

Ian Katz (via SMH) | April 17, 2012
Threats range from governments trying to control citizens to the rise of Facebook and Apple-style "walled gardens", says tech billionaire.

Brin said he and co-founder Larry Page would not have been able to create Google if the internet was dominated by Facebook. "You have to play by their rules, which are really restrictive. The kind of environment that we developed Google in, the reason that we were able to develop a search engine, is the web was so open. Once you get too many rules that will stifle innovation."

He also criticised Facebook for not making it easy for users to switch their data to other services. "Facebook has been sucking down Gmail contacts for many years."

Brin's comments come amidst an intensifying battle for control of the internet that is being played out across the globe between governments, companies, military strategists, activists and hackers.

From Hollywood's attempts to pass legislation allowing pirate websites to be shut down, to the British government's plans to monitor social media and web use, the ethos of openness championed by the pioneers of the internet and world wide web is being challenged on a number of fronts.

In China, which now has more internet users than any country in the world, the government recently introduced new "real identity" rules in a bid to tame the country's boisterous micro-blogging scene. In Russia there are powerful calls to rein in a blogosphere that was blamed for fomenting a wave of anti-Putin protests. It has been reported that Iran is planning to introduce a sealed "national internet" from this summer.

Ricken Patel, co-founder of Avaaz, the 14 million-strong online activist network which has been providing communication equipment and training to Syrian activists, echoed Brin's warning: "We've seen a massive attack on the freedom of the web. Governments are realising the power of this medium to organise people and they are trying to clamp down across the world, not just in places like China and North Korea; we're seeing bills in the United States, in Italy, all across the world."

The outspoken Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei says the Chinese government's attempts to control the internet will ultimately be doomed to failure. "In the long run they must understand it's not possible for them to control the internet unless they shut it off - and they can't live with the consequences of that."

Brin said he was not surprised by the effectiveness with which China had so far managed to create a technological barrier against the outside world. "I'm more surprised by the acceptance . . . I had imagined people would be more rebellious."

 

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