Sergey Brin Pounds Fists Against Walled Gardens

Mon, Apr 16, 2012 at 4:02 pm

    Google cofounder Sergey Brin spoke out about his biggest concerns regarding the freedom and openness of the Internet during a recent interview. He named government censorship, overreach from entertainment companies anxious to eradicate piracy, and walled-off platforms as some of the Net’s biggest problems of the day.

    The concept of the open Web is under greater threat than ever before, Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) cofounder Sergey Brin told The Guardian.

    The threat is a combination of increased attempts by governments to control the Web, the entertainment industry’s efforts to crack down on piracy, and the rise of walled gardens such as those controlled by Facebook and Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL), which restrict what software can be released on their platforms, Brin said.

    Brin’s comments drew mixed responses from observers.

    “Sergey Brin needs a pair of Google glasses that will give some insight into his company’s own ethical problems,” Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD), told TechNewsWorld. “He showed an amazing lack of understanding — or is in digital denial about — his own role steering a company which also shares a closed data culture.”

    “Freedom is something a challenger typically asks for; what it wants is an easier path to accessing [the dominant party’s] consumers,” Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, told TechNewsWorld. “This [concept of openness] is pro-consumer, but it needs to be applied equally.”

    The number of users Apple and Facebook have “means that increasingly huge swaths of the Web are essentially closed to mapping by anyone but those companies,” Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, told TechNewsWorld.

    Sergey’s Dirge

    Brin reportedly told The Guardian that five years ago, he didn’t believe China or any other country could effectively restrict the Internet for long, but that he’s been proven wrong since. He’s most concerned by the efforts of countries such as China, Saudi Arabia and Iran to censor and restrict use of the Internet.

    Further, Brin cautioned that the rise of Facebook and Apple, which have their own proprietary platforms, risk stifling innovation and fragmenting the Internet. The data in those two companies’ apps is not accessible to Web crawlers, he complained.

    Google managed to develop a search engine because the Web was open at the time, Brin said. If the Internet had been dominated by Facebook, he and Google cofounder Larry Page wouldn’t have been able to create their company.

    Brin cited the SOPA and PIPA bills, two proposed U.S. laws championed by the entertainment industries, as examples of the growing pressure exerted by governments to control the Internet. The bills would have led the United States to use the same technology and approach to controlling Internet access for which it has already criticized China.

    SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act, and PIPA, the Protect IP Act, were introduced in Congress to fight intellectual property theft and piracy. They were backed by the entertainment industry. Strong opposition from corporations, high-tech leaders and online consumers led to the bills being withdrawn in January.

    Open-Faced App Sandwiches, Anyone?

    “Whenever Google raises the cry of defending Internet freedom, it’s always really about what’s best for Google’s business model,” John Simpson, consumer advocate at Consumer Watchdog, told TechNewsWorld.

    Although Brin complained about Facebook and Apple apps not being open to Web crawlers, Google+ is a walled garden too, Spencer Belkofer, founder of SEO consultants Lumin Consulting, told TechNewsWorld. “They want to have their cake and eat it too.”

    Google “is fairly restrictive about what they consider proprietary too,” Enderle said. “Recall they blacklisted CNet for using Google to gather information on their then-CEO Eric Schmidt.”

    Further, “Google isn’t warranted all that information [on other companies’ apps], nor should they be given it,” Belkofer stated. “That’s proprietary information, and it doesn’t make sense to me why its Web crawlers should be able to crawl everything and anything.”

    Google spokesperson Stephen Rosenthal declined to comment for this article.

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