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When corporate gets into leading public interest campaign - The case of Google versus the ITU


Dear Google; Yes, the world indeed needs an open Internet, for which reason it is rather awful to note that you, meaning, Google;

1) Sold the entire net neutrality campaign down the drain in the US, by first assuming its leadership and then entering into a self-serving agreement with Verizon, whereby the main means of accessing the Internet in the future - mobiles - are exempted from net neutrality provisions.

2) Have recently entered into exclusive arrangements with telecos to provide Gmail, Google + and Google Search for free on mobiles in some developing countries (Philippines) , and as a special low cost package exclusively of a few Internet services (and not the full, public Internet) in others (India), which makes a mockery of an open and net neutral Internet. (BTW, is it a mere coincidence these new mobile based non-net-neutral services seem to have something to do with the betraying compromise that Google made that is mentioned in point 1 above?)

3) Tweak your search results, which is increasingly the main way of accessing locations on the Internet, in non-transparent ways, with increasing evidence that this is done in a manner that merely serves your own commercial interests and goes against consumer/ public interest, and for which reasons Google is currently subject to regulatory investigations in the US and EU.

(There are hundreds of other outrages, big and small, including the fact that today I suddenly  see my default browser getting set for "Chrome' when I prefer and have always used Mozilla Firefox and never asked for the change of default.)

I cannot see anything other than effective regulation of the Internet to be able to check such excesses by Internet companies that are deeply compromising the openness of the Internet (sticking here to only to the subject of openness of the Internet, used in above appeal by Google).

So, lets be honest, it is not about people versus ITU, not even, Google versus ITU, or even Google versus content regulation; it is Google versus any regulation of the Internet space so that Google, and similarly positioned dominant players, can have a free run over the economic, social and political resources of the world.

It is very important to wage the needed struggles to keep Internet's content free from undue statist controls. But one needs to be careful about whom one chooses as partners, nay, leaders of the campaign. Remember, the lessons from the net neutrality campaign in the US which was sold cheap by those who assumed its leadership. Also, have no doubt whatsoever that ACTAs and PIPAs will come back in new forms, accommodating the interests of the big Internet companies that led the opposition in the first round. (Anyone wanting to take a bet on this! :) ) And. when the second round happens, since 'our leaders' would have crossed over, there wouldnt be much fight left to give.

For sure, make opportunistic, tactical, alliances, but civil society needs to be careful not to abandon leadership of public interest causes to players who cannot but become turncoat and, well, betray, - sooner or later getting into bed with whoever is economically and politically powerful around to help their business prosper. Such is the structural logic of big business. Let them stick to what they do best - organise productive forces of the world. Leave public interest causes to public interest players - civil society and governments. However, if the sentiment is simply overflowing, maybe just donate some money to such causes, in an arms- lenght /hands-off approach vis a vis managing the precise activities involved. I simply dont fancy corporate-led 'public interest' campaigns.

One was stuck by the number of Google organised panels at the Baku IGF, where they openly took part and gave their policy pitch. As a participant from Pakistan said at a workshop ' I find a Google representative at every panel that I am at'. Such brash presence at policy forums and taking strong policy positions by corporates is a relatively new game, and to my mind not a welcome thing for our democracies. I keep hoping that civil society would give this phenomenon a deeper thought and analysis, rather than just riding the bandwagon.

Author: Parminder Jeet Singh