Sunday, December 2, 2012

Why Google should keep its business out of the ITU.

Today, I noticed that Google's homepage added a link to a very nebulous page titled "Take Action, A free and open world depends on a free and open web.":

https://www.google.com/takeaction/

The first thing the user is presented with is very vague facts about what the ITU is and Google's stance about it. Then Google wants you to part with your:

First and Last name
E-mail address
Location
Stance on Internet infrastructure you likely don't understand

That form is a privacy violation in and of itself. Google is outright collecting information. The "How we use your information" blurb also seems very disingenuous:

"The name that you give may be published publicly as part of this website and discussion. Your specified country and other location information may be used to display the vibrant conversation across the world.Your email address may be used to send you updates on Internet policy initiatives."

Enough on the privacy violation thing though. I'm sure they'll collect all sorts of great information that they will publish that will become a treasure trove for the very same governments that Google wishes to suppress through this effort.

The bigger issue is the lack of presenting information about the ITU. The first piece of "information" the user is presented with is a YouTube video (with lousy background music) that presents ZERO information and people saying the same thing over and over. Every good piece of journalism covers the 5 'W's: Who, What, Where, When, Why (and How). If this is a serious enough problem that The People have to get involved, there needs to be more than pretty pictures, a one-sided perspective, and limited information on the topic. I want to see in-depth, thought-provoking videos covering all sides. I want to see well-written literature on the subject. What I don't want to see is a zero-day link to suddenly make Internet citizens aware of issues at stake but providing nothing useful. I want good information at my fingertips and time to mull things over and form my own opinion - not force-fed one.

There are three links at the bottom of Google's page (AFTER the form where we are supposed to part with personal information) that take you away from Google to various concerned websites. These websites are effectively in favor of stopping the proceedings at the ITU with more fairly vague messaging but they contain more information than the main Google page. If what is on Google's site represents the limits of this topic, those three links should have been first on the page! Education first, "feel-good" garbage later.

Also, I don't see how Google plans to stop a meeting of this scale that will begin tomorrow. Google: Are you going to go all Rambo and go into the meeting with guns a-blazin'? What exactly CAN you do? This reeks more of "Let's have a pity party" rather than, "If we can get a billion signatures, we're going to go kick butt. And here's how..." (With the "How", there's that pesky journalism thing rearing its head again.) It appears to me that Google is in the same boat as everyone else concerned - they can't do anything except bring awareness. Google lacks teeth on such issues as this.

Google's primary focus with this effort seems to be about freedom. Let me tell you something about freedom: Freedom is not given freely. It is first earned through simple logic. When simple logic fails, it is earned through hard work and sweat within the existing legal framework so as to not become a stench to a government that said government feels the need to eliminate. When all else fails and all previous avenues to obtain freedom have been exhausted, it is earned through tears and blood.

This is the first time in recent history that I can remember that the UN, of which the ITU is a UN agency, appears to actually want to do something useful and could actually affect real change in our world. Frankly, I'm for anything that tears the iron grip of ICANN from within U.S. borders to a more International space. We got SOPA/PIPA because ICANN resides within U.S. control and therefore, ultimately, the entire Internet infrastructure upon which the web relies (DNS) is also controlled by U.S. interests. If that control transfers to the UN, not only does it give the UN a set of real teeth, it will reduce and possibly eliminate future SOPA/PIPA-like efforts by our own government - they'll have to take the issue to the UN and have to have real talks with other governments. This is just one likely bit of discussion that will take place at the ITU meeting. If anything, I'm surprised to see Google being against this. They are against SOPA/PIPA, but then turn around and are against this ITU meeting. It is hypocritical to take such a stance.

The bigger discussion that needs to take place is whether or not a government has the right to unplug the Internet or portions thereof for its Citizens. The Internet is intimately tied to our daily lives anymore. Whenever I experience an outage, I find myself expressing mild frustration at common tasks becoming significantly more difficult. This discussion and decisions need to be made and agreed upon at the International level given the recent Internet blackouts for entire nations over the past year.

The only issue perhaps with this meeting is that ITU meetings are closed to the public. All discussions are secret and all decisions are as well. This has advantages and disadvantages. When secret discussions and decisions are made and members know they are secret and what they discuss will be held in the utmost confidentiality, things that normally wouldn't be said will be more openly discussed. That infamous, Treasonous document known as the Declaration of Independence was formed behind closed doors in secret. Each member was at significant risk of not only being hung or drawn and quartered for Acts of Treason, but their families as well. Okay, so this is a little different, but governments have a right to run their country how they see fit and the UN is a different sort of beast altogether. Something Google apparently has forgotten. The fact that the UN can draw representatives of all nations together into a single room to make decisions is nothing short of impressive. We also have to realize that these are people at this meeting, not robots, usually very intelligent, representing their nation's best interest and already understand that both the immediate and distant future are at stake. Countries don't send dumb people to these sort of meetings. I except rational heads will prevail and decisions will be made that affect all in a positive manner. Compromise is an ugly, but necessary, word: Compromise occurs when no single party walks away thrilled with the outcome. If compromise is the outcome of this meeting of the ITU, then it will have been a successful meeting.

One thing that irritates me to no end is American bravado. "Hey, look at our model of government. We're the best!" We encourage change within other governments and political structures because we've found something that seems to work better, but I only remember that the way to where the United States is today was paved with blood and sacrifice. Oh how easily we forget! It takes a culturally insensitive Person to have a blatant disregard for other cultures and try to force your culture onto them. This effort by Google is really one such demonstration. It is wholly inappropriate and has a very knee-jerk reaction feel to it. I can easily see this effort as being rather offensive to other cultures.

One of the main sticking points with most of the arguments against this meeting seems to be that the Internet was the brainchild of and run by scientists and engineers with the implication that it is still run by those people. That was true at one time, but as soon as e-commerce became a reality, that power was taken away by business interests and therefore such an argument is no longer relevant. The Internet is thriving today because of businesses, not scientists, engineers, and/or educational institutions. Actually, if you want to look at it from that perspective, "Internet2" is a closed network only available to a very limited audience of those same folks that the opponents of this meeting of the ITU are defending. Either the opponents of this meeting don't know about Internet2 (really?) or have conveniently and hypocritically forgotten for the purpose of grabbing attention. Also, the Internet was effectively developed in secret without your input (oh noes!) and really just involved cobbling together a bunch of technology to create it and was pretty pathetically haphazard in its initial construction. Also relevant: You get spam in your in-box because scientists and engineers can't make decisions (See: SMTP and the IETF).

I saw a comment on one of the videos I watched saying that the ITU is 20 years too late to the game regarding the Internet. However, the ITU is right on time. Sure the basis of Internet technology was developed many years ago, but the issues including whether or not a government can pull the plug on the Internet for its Citizens is actually very current and relevant. The ITU is stepping in during an important time of upheaval surrounding the complex topic of communication across the Internet and doing the job tasked of them to do. The UN is in place to avoid wars and major issues between nations and to provide an environment in which to facilitate peaceful discussions and decisions wherever possible and using whatever means are necessary to make an inviting environment for the nations of the world. If the only way the ITU can conduct its operations, for which it has been tasked, is in secret - that is, the only way that countries like Egypt, Syria, and China will come to the same proverbial table as the U.S. (and each other) - then so be it. The issues at stake are too big to just ignore and opponents don't have an alternative solution that brings every nation of the world together other than, "Let's let the scientists and engineers figure it out." Maybe that will be the decision for some of the issues on the table! Lo and behold, intelligent individuals meeting together and coming up with workable solutions to big problems.

What I'm ultimately getting at is that I don't mind if Google presents important issues before the Internet community BUT only as long as they also have reasonable journalistic integrity in the process. This effort isn't even close. The only thing that could be a problem is the closed nature of the ITU, which appears, on a surface-level through the American filter, to be a backwards way of doing things. However, that is generally not how the world nor the UN works. Do your own research on this topic and what is before the ITU and come to your own conclusions. Okay, sure I might not be 100% accurate on what I've written here, but at least it is more informative and represents real thought on the subject matter at hand rather than the hand-waving, feel-good-but-please-panic, "ZOMG the Internets are at risk" effort that Google threw together.

6 comments:

  1. Good article. Thanks for taking the time to write it. Cheers

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  2. Brilliant repudiation of Google's content-free propaganda campaign. It struck me as odd when I failed to find any meaningful information on their "take-action" page. Further investigation revealed that Google's intentions might not be as benign as it would have you believe.

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  3. Thank goodness I never signed it in the first place. :)

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  4. While I do agree they should include more detail to this and such, after doing some research what I have found is that the arn't necessarilly protesting the convention, but rather the more oppressive policies. I sign it on the grounds that the people should have a say in something which is used by the people, and often neglected in manefestos, which give them the right to implement policies, so they cannot run their country how they see fit unless people agreed to it in manefesto.

    And yes, people do forget that the government is run by people as well, but you also forget that the government, especially the U.S. government with how laws are passed and implemented, have massive investment into large companies, which in turn can influence policies.

    Ad while you recognised the Declaration of independance was a bad example, it was signed by the oppressed against the oppressor, this is potentially the oppressor signing against the oppressed, and for the sake of democracy the oppressed have a right to know and a right to access the process of decision making so they have the choice.

    Really it is more to show that if the UN does anything which can harm the liberties of the internet, or does it in the gains of large businesses without gains for the people, there will be consequences, and such a sensitive and vital issue. You say you would rather a two sided arguement, and so would I, but this isnt a SOPA issue where there is a clear antagonist, and not everyone will be politically interested enough to sign something which probably will be ok.

    Just my two cents.

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    1. Well put Grimfang999. In this day and age no government should have the right to censor it's citizens' access to the free flow of information. If they don't want to know what goes on in the rest of the world they don't have to go online, but if their government is oppressive then we (the rest of the world) should not make the act of opression any easier for outdated governments.

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  5. My conclusions is that your statement "is very vague facts about what the ITU is and Google's stance about it" is untrue.

    I have been on some pre-ITU-meetings in my country and know how ITU is working. Google and others has get it right.

    If you don't like todays Internet, build a new one by yourself and your friends. Nobody's stops you.

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