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Google co-founder: China, Apple, Facebook threaten the 'open Web'

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There are "very powerful forces that have lined up against the open internet on all sides and around the world," says Brin.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Google's co-founder Sergey Brin cited a wide range of attacks on "the open Internet"
  • Apple, Facebook and China are part of the problem, Brin says
  • But Google has been compelled to hand over user information to the U.S. government
  • Brin: SOPA and PIPA would have restricted user access to the Web

(Wired) -- Google's search engine was created when most of the Web's information was open and available to anyone willing to capture it. In today's more restrictive environment, Google co-founder Sergey Brin and CEO Larry Page may not have even tried to start the company.

"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," Brin told The Guardian. "Once you get too many rules, that will stifle innovation."

In an interview published Sunday, Google's co-founder cited a wide range of attacks on "the open Internet," including government censorship and interception of data, overzealous attempts to protect intellectual property, and new communication portals that use web technologies and the internet, but under restrictive corporate control.

There are "very powerful forces that have lined up against the open internet on all sides and around the world," says Brin. "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."

Not coincidentally, these forces map directly onto three of Google's biggest headaches as a business in the past few years. There's no way for Google's servers to crawl Facebook's pages or Apple's smartphone apps for information.

YouTube's video clips, Google Books and other key initiatives have had to grapple with both the media industries and government court rulings or legislation.

And besides having to withdraw from China to Hong Kong after a series of attacks and new censorship rules, Google has been compelled to hand over user information to the U.S. government, sometimes without being able to legally notify those users.

"If we could be in some magical jurisdiction that everyone in the world trusted, that would be great," says Brin. "We're doing it as well as can be done."

Brin lists several other threats to the open Web (and to Google):

-- Smartphone apps, as led by Apple: "all the information in apps -- that data is not crawlable by Web crawlers. You can't search it."

-- Facebook, where data goes in but never comes out: "Facebook has been sucking down Gmail contacts for many years."

-- SOPA and PIPA, which Brin says would have led to the U.S. using the same content-screening technology it has criticized China and Iran for using.

With SOPA and PIPA, says Brin, fears of piracy had reduced the media industry to "shooting itself in the foot, or maybe worse than in the foot."

Still, 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.

There may be a continuum of control and closure of the Internet that connects repressive governments at one end and overbearing corporations at the other.

The fight over the SOPA/PIPA legislation, where entertainment and technology companies, along with their users, fought it out in the halls of Congress, doubtlessly lies somewhere in between.

But Google is likewise doubtlessly a part of that continuum, not apart from it.

Because of its origin and the nature of its business, Google's prospects are inexorably tied to the fate of the open Web. But we have to resist the urge to make the two identical. Google isn't just a Web-crawling search company anymore.

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