This Is Why It’s Hard to Trust Google

Andrew Richard Albanese -- August 11th, 2010

In covering the Google Books settlement I’ve always been struck by how many people seem to deeply distrust Google. This week, the company gave those critics new ammunition. In a joint blog post from Google CEO Eric Schmidt and Verizon Wireless CEO Lowell McAdam, Google backtracked on its longstanding commitment to the principle of net neutrality. If you’re not familiar with the principle, the New York Times today published an excellent round-up of thoughts on why net neutrality matters, and what the Google/Verizon alliance means.

“Think about your cable service,” explains Public Knowledge’s Gigi Sohn. “Do you get to choose what comes on the basic programming tier or on the other tiers that costs extra? No, you don’t. You have choice on the Internet because the companies that control access to it (largely cable and telephone companies) were prevented from picking winners and losers.” Under the new recommendations from Google and Verizon, she explains, that could all change. “The Google and Verizon policy framework would allow Internet service providers to give priority or ‘managed’ access services to content and applications providers so their Web sites load faster or have better quality of service,” Sohn writes.

Google and Verizon deny they have any “deal” in place. But their “policy proposal,” if adopted by the U.S. government, would effectively allow broadband and network providers, like Comcast, Time Warner, and Verizon, to create “premium” services for web content. That’s troubling on many levels, experts say. “Google, eBay, Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare are just a few of the thousands of companies that flourished on the Internet, precisely because there were no gatekeepers and no toll takers,” observes venture capitalist Brad Burnham in his Times contribution. In a world of “public” and “premium” Internet service tiers, however, “young startup companies will have difficulty finding financing and building businesses of scale,” Burnham adds.

What does that mean for innovation? Imagine having to negotiate with Verizon to carry your new digital book business on par with your would-be competitors. “Had there been a two-tier Internet in 1995, likely, Barnes and Noble would have destroyed Amazon, Microsoft Search would have beaten out Google, Skype would have never gotten started,” writes Tim Wu, author of the forthcoming book the Master Switch. “We’d all be the losers.”

What’s also troubling, however, is that Google, long an advocate for an unqualified open Internet, is now laying the groundwork in Washington for what critics say is a competing Internet couched as “additional services,” a development that John Bergmayer at Public Knowledge says could “freeze” the Internet in 2010, “with companies like [Google] on top.” With e-books and e-book platforms just getting warmed up, net neutrality holds serious implications for the book world, publishers and authors, as well as booksellers, libraries, and service providers and institutions of higher education.

It’s hard to be upset at corporations for acting like corporations, and what ultimately happens with net neutrality is still in the hands of government. But at the same time, wasn’t Google supposed to be different? Hasn’t Google has pretty much traded on the public’s faith? The Google Book Settlement, for example, was sold almost like a public works project. Yet throughout the settlement debate, critics and opponents of the deal have questioned just how deep Google’s commitment to the public runs. This kind of about-face from Google on net neutrality, and make no mistake, despite Schmidt’s support for what he calls a “public” Internet, this is a major shift, will only add fuel to the fire.

I can already hear the questions: Will the Google books database always be carried on the “public Internet?” Will an upgraded version of the GBS database be offered to premium customers, giving libraries in the well-funded suburbs yet another advantage over libraries in inner cities? If you thought the questions were complex enough for one Internet, Google is now talking about creating another.

8 thoughts on “This Is Why It’s Hard to Trust Google

  1. money get

    omg most of the responses a lot of people make are such stoner comments, now and again i question whether they actually go through the content material pieces and reports prior to posting or if maybe they generally gloss over the titles and publish first thing comes to mind. anyhow, it is pleasant to go through ingenious commentary here and there compared to the exact same, obsolete post vomit which i usually see on the net

  2. Pingback: Google Book Settlement, the world's books and net neutrality.

  3. damefrank

    Abraham Lincoln predicted that corporations, in time, will ‘eat their babies’. Fortunately for Google, it didn’t get eaten. But appears it’s a grown up corporation and now behaves as such.

    Now that corporations are treated as ‘people’ with the ability to purchase politicians…hmmmmm…where will Google swing its money? I believe they can afford to purchase a few advocates.

  4. Pingback: Industry News: The Importance of Net Neutrality and More Cutting-Edge Changes « Florida Writers Conference Blog

  5. Pingback: Open Book Alliance

  6. Pingback: Paula Blais Gorgas » No More Free Internet?

  7. David Rothman

    Excellent post, especially the mention of rich vs. poor libraries. Guess which ones a Googlized library system will favor. This is among the many evils we’ll see if Google and Verizon get their way. As a very small Google shareholder, I am appalled, and publishers of all sizes should be, too.

    David Rothman, founder, TeleRead
    (speaking just for himself)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>