Google co-founder Sergey Brin tells Ian Katz, writing for the Guardian, that the internet’s core foundation of openness and universal access are under greater threat than ever. “Very powerful forces that have lined up against the open internet on all sides and around the world,” Brin tells Katz. “I am more worried than I have been in the past ... it’s scary.”
China, for example, recently implemented a “real identity” program that requires internet users in that country to use their real names. And China now has more internet users than any other country on the planet.
While governments are trying to regulate internet access and control communications by their citizens, the entertainment cartel’s anti-piracy efforts threaten to throw the baby out with the bathwater. And then there’s the walled gardens of the likes of Apple and Facebook that exert ultimate and unwavering control over what software can be used on their products and platforms. The end result, Brin warns, is a balkanized web pointing to information locked inside apps that cannot be searched because it’s not discoverable by web search engines like Google.
Five years ago, when Brin was architecting Google’s partial exit from China, he believed that no government could effectively restrict the internet for more than a brief period of time. He was wrong, Brin now admits, telling Katz, “I thought there was no way to put the genie back in the bottle, but now it seems in certain areas the genie has been put back in the bottle.”
Brin minces no words when it comes to Facebook, telling Katz that he and Larry Page would never have been able to create Google in the Facebook era: “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.”
Brin was most critical of the entertainment cartel, telling Katz that it was “shooting itself in the foot, or maybe worse than in the foot” with its lobbying efforts to block infringing websites. The only way to accomplish that goal, according to Brin, is for the US to “the same technology and approach it criticised China and Iran for using.” Brin states the obvious when he tells Katz that people will continue to pirate content until—and probably only until—they can obtain the content legitimately just as frictionlessly and easily. “I haven’t tried it for many years but when you go on a pirate website, you choose what you like, it downloads to the device of your choice and it will just work –- and then when you have to jump through all these hoops [to buy legitimate content], the walls created are disincentives for people to buy,” says Brin.