Lots of people who long for a more open, more democratic and fairer world still pin their hopes on the internet. The exchange of information, access to knowledge, distance-defying communication unimpeded by national borders—all of these go into making the internet what it is today. Nevertheless, there are more and more proposals to restrict the freedom of the World Wide Web.
Sergey Brin, one of the founders of Google (there’s probably no need you provide you with a link here, right?), recently gave a detailed and comprehensive account of some of the looming threats and his critique of them. In this connection, he regards closed systems like Facebook and Apple’s Appstore as discrete domains that make themselves impervious to free information exchange. In his opinion, this development is diametrically opposed to the original idea of the internet—namely, openness and access for all.
Furthermore, he sees the internet as being endangered by various governments and their proposed legislation. Here, he mentioned SOPA/PIPA by name, but of course ACTA and telecommunications data retention fall into the same category. Under the guise of crime fighting & prevention, numerous states are attempting to keep track of who’s getting organized with whom and which protest movements and anti-government resistance groups are gaining support and followers via the Web. As usual throughout history, the powers that be fear losing their grip on power and thus attempt to prevent communication or at least to make it more difficult. “Divide and Conquer!”
Now, of course, one can accuse Sergey Brin of attacking a competitor and there’s certainly some truth to that—after all, this is what’s made Google what it is today, something that Brin himself freely admits. Nevertheless, it really doesn’t matter whether his position is motivated by commercial interests or idealism. His analysis is accurate and should actually make us all pause and reflect that we’re on the verge of losing another cornerstone of our freedom. “Out of Control – What the Internet Knows about You”, a new exhibition opening Wednesday, April 18, 2012 at the Ars Electronica Center, sheds more light on this issue.
And while we’re on the subject of freedom: Google isn’t the only search engine out there, even if it does sometimes seem that way. When you use it, your search results depend not only on the contents of the respective websites but also on your own surfing habits. The more time you devote to similar topics and opinions, the heavier Google factors these opinions into the search results, and at some point you’re sort of stewing in your own juices when it comes to the opinion formation process. If you’d like know what it feels like not to be indexed or tracked, you could give duckduckgo.com a shot and experience surfing without a protective bubble. More than a million search queries per day attest to the fact that there are more and more people who are mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore!