Another look at Google

This is one of the most intelligent pieces I’ve seen yet, by communications/Internet guru Thomas Lipscomb. His last paragraph goes right to my question about whether this is about China or about America. (Hint: it’s about America.) I’ll admit, it’s forcing me to see the issue from a whole new persepctive. Here’s a long excerpt.

Google has been badly hampered by the filters placed on access to it by the Chinese government. They slow its search speeds to a crawl, make it undependable, and would keep Google at a competitive commercial disadvantage unless it complied with China’s demands. But it now seems more than likely that if some U.S. administration decided to turn Google into a Patriot Act censorship engine or put it under similar restrictions, Google would suddenly find that wasn’t “evil” either.

It isn’t as if Google is in dire straits. The Poynter Institute’s analyst Rick Edmonds pointed out in his review of financial performances at year- end 2005, the market capitalization of “Google itself is valued at more than $80 billion. After the battering of 2005, newspaper stocks collectively are down to a market cap of about $65 billion.”

So today, Google, all by itself, has a larger market capitalization than the entire U.S. newspaper industry. In the past month alone Google’s market cap went up to $130.9 billion, twice the newspaper industry. It is now the second largest technology company in the country after Microsoft.

The press faced an annus horribilis in 2005 with the number of challenges to what it believed were normal exercises of its vital First Amendment freedoms of inquiry. This year promises to be worse as the Scooter Libby defense team is expected to subpoena members of the press in far more extensive numbers than led to Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s indictment. And a promised investigation of the leaks that led to The New York Times’ reporting on the Federal Government’s secret surveillance of foreign terrorist contacts with individuals inside the United States may be an historic test of both the powers of the executive branch and of the rights of the press under the First Amendment.

Google isn’t the first Western company to cave to Chinese pressure. But Google is by far the largest and most worrisome case yet. The explosion of Internet companies has created a new form of media. While listed as a technology company like IBM or Intel, Google might be more intelligently viewed as a new media company. Thanks to its search technology, governments no longer have to censor book-by-book or publication-by-publication. They can censor an entire universal library instantly with terrifying efficiency.

Google has already announced its intention to create just such a library with “The Google Library Project,” which has been justly criticized for its “negative option” attack on the basic concept of copyright. Many are concerned that the concentration of media that has taken place in the past decade has made the few giant companies that now control them more vulnerable to compliance demands from foreign and domestic governments with their own agenda. And American media companies have been tempted to jettison their standards before in order to gain entry to a major market in a totalitarian state.

Some years ago, as the Soviet Union was headed for its demise, a Moscow Book Fair was announced and publishers in the United States and throughout the world flocked to gain access to a huge potential new market. The Soviets promised an open market at the Fair to display what publishers felt were their best books most suited to the market. But as soon as the Fair opened, Soviet police moved in on publishers and confiscated books they felt might “feed agitation.”

Other publishers, fearing this kind of action, had already self-censored the books they displayed or quickly removed them on the spot. Times Books, the general book publisher owned by the New York Times Company, immediately withdrew from the Fair, arguing that it was difficult to maintain First Amendment standards in the United States while conceding them elsewhere. A lively debate ensued, and the Moscow Book Fair was seriously diminished as a marketplace thereafter.

Perhaps in the 21st century, Google now believes the Wall Street film villain Gordon Gekko was right and “greed is good.” It is hard to come up with any other explanation given Google’s flexible definition of “evil.” But thousands of American and allied troops are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan to bring repressed peoples access to more democratic institutions just as they have died to protect American freedoms in many wars before. Isn’t it time Americans and their elected representatives pay more attention to their own cherished freedoms? Aren’t the giant keiretsu companies that control American media too willing to suspend those freedoms wherever they interfere with their pursuit of profit?

The Discussion: One Comment

Thanks for the notice… I followed it up here…

we need some new thinking for our new economy.
And don’t miss Brooks’ superb oped in the NYT today

February 2, 2006 @ 8:05 pm | Comment

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.