Forget the outcry about SOPA – one of Google’s co-founders claims Facebook, not political meddling, is the “greatest threat” to internet freedom.
When the US congress began looking at SOPA – the Stop Online Piracy Act – the world-wide web went ballistic: claiming the act was so loosely worded, it could lead to political infringement which would, amongst other things, usurp the American right to free speech and shut down the “open web”. The anger spread quickly and countless sites protested about the legislation.
Whilst most webmasters may tell you they’re still keeping an eye on the political rumblings regarding SOPA-style legislature, over at Google, it seems something else entirely is causing a bee-in-the-bonnet-style headache.
Funnily enough, that something is Facebook.
According to Sergey Brin, who co-founded Google with Larry Page, the social network site is creating a “walled garden” which could lead to a loss of freedom on the net.
Brin claims Facebook’s rules are very restrictive, so much so that had they been applied to the web during the development of Google, the search engine may never have come to fruition.
He told the Guardian there were “very powerful forces” who opposed an open internet – naming Facebook and Apple specifically, and claiming “it’s scary.”
The comments came after several US employers were chastised in the past few weeks for asking prospective staff members for access to their social media profiles.Whilst Facebook was quick to point out such intrusion was against its terms of service, the debate has continued as to whether employers should, or shouldn’t, be granted access to personal information.
Brin has widened the debate, claiming Governments are trying to access, and control, public communication. In China and Saudi Arabia, for instance, this state censorship is prevalent and largely decried by the West. Ironically, the issue of such censorship is creeping into democratic Western countries now.
In the UK, several online instant messengers were hauled over the coals during UK parliamentary inquiries which followed last summer’s riots. The riots followed violent anti-government uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, amongst others, which were largely attributed to the dissemination of information via sites like Twitter and Facebook.
Brin, who was originally against Google operating in China, where the Government is renowned for censorship and propaganda, said simple shifts in online behaviour, such as people using apps in Facebook or via Apple devices, were restricting web freedom.
“All the information in apps – that data is not crawlable by web crawlers. You can’t search it,” he said, an effect which could greatly affect future search engine optimisation campaigns.
And he has a point. But then, Google has a vested interest in searchable information.
Brin’s underlying message is backed by the 14 million-member online activist site Avaaz – but his attack on Facebook has been seen as something as a cheapshot.
He claimed Google could never have been developed under Facebook’s “restrictive” rules – saying the success of Google hinged on an “open, transparent web”. Brin criticised the ‘walled garden’ effect of sites like Facebook, and said that effect would, ultimately, lead to a less open Internet.
But, oddly, he didn’t mention Google+, Google’s recently-launched, and far less popular social network rival to Facebook.
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