Google and net neutrality

Author: Daniël Verhoeven, 22 feb 2009

Avant-propos: finding information on the web NOT using Google or any other search engine

A fortnight ago I planned to write an article about Google and contextual information search, the opposite of full text search (Google, Altavista, Yahoo search…). I started to collect information NOT using Google. I found out that one of my best friends in Belgium, Wim VDB – saw him on the birthday party of Francis – had made a small critical posting about Google privacy: ‘Zoekmachines en uw Privacy‘. When browsing his blog I stumbled on an article of Geert Lovink, I knew Geert a long time ago as a writer in Hactic… I wanted to reconnect. Using the tag http://wordpress.com/tag/geert-lovink, I found an article of him on Weizenbaum and Google search. Weizenbaum is a shared reference, one of the first well grounded critics of the information age. Since Weizenbauw was himself one of the architects of computer technology, he knows what he is talking about. Geert’s  article was a tribute to Weizenbaum and also a kind of Google bashing. This article linked to another article in Eurozine this one from Daniel Leisegan, Das Google-Imperium and to Siva Vaidhyanathan’s huge project:

The Googlization of Everything: http://www.googlizationofeverything.com/. 379 postings until now.

Using the tag Google on the German WordPress domain, http://de.wordpress.com/tag/google/,  I found more articles and again a complete blog dedicated to Google watching: ‘Google is watching you! “Don’t be evil” ? – Pah..‘. Because I want to assist to HAR2009 I landed on Karin Spaink’s Blog, who had also written a few articles about Google and privacy.  I like Tony Curson Price writings, I follow his articles on OpenDemocracy (I get them in my mail). He has written ‘Google’s Attention Deficit Disorder‘ and in his series the Liberty of the networked’, Google is analysed and discredited in a broader context. I also discovered there is a site of Google Watchers: http://www.google-watch.org/. Somebody linked, I think it was Wim, to an article on Cnet: Debunking Google’s log anonymization propaganda… And of course it didn’t stop there, I didn’t mention yet Pit Schultz, Nicolas Carr, several articles I found on Libertés Internets,  Slash Dot  nor tag search using Technorati.

I found all this critical articles  about Google NOT using Google at all, but using a contextual search for information about my subject, defining contextual search as looking in places, reading and  consulting people that I had figgered out to be critical about Google.

Of course I also dived in the resources used, weaving a coherent network of related and associated retrieval. For the writers I mentioned , referencing is self-evident, thus finding resources was a peace of cake. The path to all these resources is transparent and meaningful. It’s not about bits and bytes, but about well formed statements  and anlysis, mostly based on a lot of research.   I  landed where I wanted to land, without having to throw away the typical search engine garbage that’s returned. It’s like asking a librarian: “I’m looking for… but do not find the exact division… to look for in the catalogue. The librarian in the dull library revives, is happy somebody is requiring his expertise, he loves books, he likes to help and to chatter a little, he shows me: ‘You had to look here..’ and there it is.”. Of course I also know something about my subject and I have a circle of friends and acquaintances that have the same interests and know more… this helps.

There is also another important surplus for these findings, since I know most of the people who have written these articles, I know their background and a lot of their past, I also know I can rely on the information they offer and I know how I must interpret things. I know Geert is exaggerating sometimes… wanting to shock people, but his bottom-line is OK, and so on. I can contextualise almost completely the information I found. This is reliable info, there is no hidden agenda and nobody owes Google something. This is no bullshit.

I also consulted the opposition. In an email discussion with another friend Gert, who is/was a Google fan, but switched 180 degrees when I reported  him that the MOS of his Mobile, Google’s Android has a security flaw, I could collect a lot of information too.  After he realised that he was defending a system he didn’t want to defend – he is very scrupulous  about digital security, doesn’t want to work on MS Windows for instance, because it’s not safe and it’s clumsy and ugly – he started to collect prove and information against Google for me… Expert information. All information I can use to write my article.

But now I have another problem. I have so much information, enough to write a book about the flaws and hegemony of Google, but I have no time to write a book though I would like to, but Google is not my main subject, contextual search is, Google is only related to it. But meanwhile also most of my friends know I’m preparing an article about Google, I have to write something and I have to keep my standards high.  They will not accept chewed old stuff neither a messy sketch. So, I’ve changed my plan, I’m going to make it a series, now and then a short episode, with some original material but of course relying on all the good stuff they delivered. This way my time management isn’t put upside down. It’s always a hack. So I discharged myself of a structured approach but not from being coherent. But what can I do better than take over the approach of Siva Vaidhyanathan in preparing his book:

“The book will answer three key questions: What does the world look like through the lens of Google?; How is Google’s ubiquity affecting the production and dissemination of knowledge?; and how has the corporation altered the rules and practices that govern other companies, institutions, and states?”

I will try to find answers on these questions in my series, of course more diffracted, and also with a small angle shift.  Since my relation to Google critics is research on ‘contextual search’, and the first peer group of my research is aged between 15 and 25 yrs old, and I am a computer pedagogue having kids myself, the pedagogic view will have more stress. My stand is clear. Google is a disease, an addiction, a money machine that could implement contextual search, combine it with full text search, but refuses to do so because this would throw sand in its own money machinery. In real life, people search always contextual. If you want to buy a bread, you do not go to the pharmacy, but to the bakery. When looking for a text using full text search, you  go nowhere and everywhere at the same time.  That’s how full text search works when you can not define the domain you are searching in.

All blog postings are XHTML.  XHTML, is now the standard for web pages. These webpages contain meta-information about the content domain, topic etc. A lot of older pages also contain keywords discribing the domain, topic of a page. This meta information could be extracted and added to the text-database allowing users of a search engine do define beforehand in which contextual domain they are looking, thus reducing the irrelevant results significantly.

Blogplatforms propagate  this meta-information. That way you can do a  contextual search  using tags within the blogplatform, but also outside the platform using Technorati. I do not say it’s simple, but it is feasible, and of course a lot of  texts containing no, or false meta-information should become second rang, superflouos garbage. This would aslo be a radical but efficient way to counter the pagerank manipulating idiots, something Google claims it is doing all the time. But I doubt about their perseverence. If they are doing  it, the result is never stable and it is almost invisible.

For a blogger Google has become completely superfluous. When looking to the referrer statistics of 2bloggen only 10,86% of the hits arrive on the blog through Google Search, all the rest is contextual. Google is almost completely useless. So Google bashing will be the generic tendency of all episodes.  The first article  is undermining the so called ‘net neutrality’ of Google, a public demand Google once supported, but isn’t practicing any longer itself.

Google the lapdog of authoritarian regimes?

Source Watch discribes ‘net neutrality‘ this way:

“…the guiding principle that preserves the free and open Internet. Net neutrality ensures that all users can access the content or run the applications and devices of their choice. With net neutrality, the network’s only job is to move data – not choose which data to privilege with higher quality service.”

Net neutrality is an important issue in the US. In 2008 a coalition of organisations and individuals started a campaign to saveguard the free and open Internet. Put simply, Net Neutrality means no discrimination. Net Neutrality prevents Internet providers from blocking, speeding up or slowing down Web content based on its source, ownership or destination. Some very important organisations support the campaing, like:

Consumers Union
American Library Association
National Coalition of Women’s Organizations
Parents Television Council
Consumer Federation of America
Office of Communication of the United Church of Christ, Inc.
Public Knowledge
Common Cause
Christian Coalition of America
Democracy for America
Electronic Retailing Association
American Civil Liberties Union
and many others.

Also Obama and a lot of politicians worry about ‘net neutrality’. Let us quote from the ‘Net Neutrality Blog‘:

“President Barack Obama signed an economic stimulus bill with $7.2 billion to get fast, affordable, neutral Internet to the nearly half of American homes that don’t have it.

Net Neutrality was written into the DNA of the broadband stimulus. The plan requires that those who build Internet networks (using the nearly $4.7 billion in NTIA grants provided by the bill) adhere to the nondiscrimination and openness principles at the core of Net Neutrality.

Obama himself pledged to “take a back seat to no one” in his commitment to Net Neutrality. And the administration’s technology policies now posted on the White House Web site list Net Neutrality as the top priority.

Obama’s all-but-certain pick to head the FCC, Julius Genachowski, was one of the principal architects of the president’s pro-Net Neutrality platform.”

See for more detailed information also a text of FreePress.

Who wants to get rid of ‘Net Neutrality’? As to the faq of the campaign site:

“The nation’s largest telephone and cable companies — including AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Time Warner — want to be Internet gatekeepers, deciding which Web sites go fast or slow and which won’t load at all.”

This is also an European threat as you can read in: Who wants Net Discrimination in Europe?

But it’s not Google’s matter apparently, or it isn’t any longer. Google supported ‘Net Neutrality’ thus far. They had too. A search engine that wants to favour certain content, looses his impartiality. Who would still want to use a biased search engine? But America wouldn’t be America  and Google is meanwhile one of the biggest American corporations, if they were not hypocritical about this[1]. We all know that Google blocks a lot of sites in China since 2006, especially sites about Tibet, the Dalai Lama and the Falun Gong. See Sites Google Agreed to Censor in China. In 2001 Human Rights Watch still congatulated Google for not wanting to give free sensitive Informationn to the Chinese Government, while Yahoo and MSN didn’t have a moral problem helping to put Chinese dissidents in jail. Source watch gives more examples of Google’s censorship and the following case is also very clear.

Everybody knows Google Earth where you can see Sharp pictures of any spot on the Globe. The two pictures beneath have both been taken by the Google satellite. The first picture has disappeared meanwhile for reasons we will explain.

Photo of secret CIA base in Baluchistan, Pakistan 2006

Photo of secret CIA base in in Baluchistan, Pakistan 2009

On the First picture you can see ‘Drones’, used by the CIA to bomb the frontier area of Pakistan with Afghanistan. The Information Clearing House knows exactly what kind of planes you see:

“The MQ1 Predator carries two laser-guided Hellfire missiles, and can fly for up to 454 miles, at speed of up to 135mph, and at altitudes of up to 25,000ft, according to the US Air Force website www.af.mil

The Information Clearing House also mentions that several governments have asked to remove such pictures. They have accused Google also of giving free military secrets. The argument often used is that Iraqui insurgents possessed detailed pictures of UK military bases when arrested.

We do not know and will probably never know why Google has removed the picture but we know the reason is not military security, but pure political considerations.

As to the  Washingon Post some 30 attacks from the air were deployed on Pakistani territory using unmanned aeroplanes ascending from a secret CIA base in Pakistan, Baluchistan. The Taliban does not have aeroplanes to revenge these attacks, so knowing where these planes lift-off is not useful information for them. But there is another problem. The Pakistani do not like the US military. Pervez Musharraf is a servile ally of the US, because in exchange his government receives a billion dollar support.

But now and then there are elections in Pakistan, it is some kind of democracy. Pervez Musharraf is one of the candidates of the elections to be held this year in Pakistan. The Washington Post expected Musharraf to stop his support for the raids on Pakistani territory using a Pakistani airbase. If  the Pakistani newspapers would print pictures of these secret airbase, it would excite many Pakistani and Musharraf would be considered as a traitor of his own people and  therefore not being reelected. So. I think this is a clear cut case of political influence resulting in Google censorship. Google’s Net Neutrality is circumstantial. You can not rely on it.


[1] Google is also confronting the anti-trust law. See Slashdot | Obama Anti-Trust Chief on Google the Monopoly Threat and Obama anti-trust chief: Google is a monopoly threat, not Microsoft. The US has one of the best anti-trust laws, but did only use it against MS when it was far to late… The Google story, I’m afraid will not be different. Also Europe reacts flabbily against the quasi advertising monopoly of Google on the Net.

More on  Net Neutrlity

How the net-neutrality debate crossed the pond (UK)

More articles about Net Neutrlity

More articles about Google Watch

More articles about Context Awareness

Links to Wikipedia: Context Awareness, Net Neutrality, Content Filtering, Google Watch

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2 thoughts on “Google and net neutrality

  1. Hi Daniel,

    Thanks for 2blogen which i have been really enjoying.

    Can I point you to this – a piece I wrote a couple of years ago on what I guess you’re calling contextual search and Google:
    http://www.opendemocracy.net/globalization-vision_reflections/google_problem_4546.jsp

    In the last part of the article, I am trying to formulate some of what you seem to be working on — that groups will create meaningful search. I would be fascinated to hear more about the work you’re doing in this area.

    And do write an openDemocracy piece for us on this if you can find the time!

    Best, Tony

  2. Hi Tony,

    Thanx for your comment. Nice surprice. The last part of your article is indeed directing in the same direction as my research. Text, information, only gets its significance through interpretation in (speech, writing, communicating) communities. Your warning for closed communities is also appropriate. These communities must be open. We must re-conquer public space on Internet and not hide in islands nor creep in niches.

    Of course these (local) communities use their own language (tags, categories, domains). They define also their own relevance scale. So you see while trying to solve one problem I create two others. The group jargon will have to be translated also, but this can be solved by a translation step. The relevance scale is a tougher question, though Wiki is experimenting with user feedback. I think I can learn much from their approach also. My approach is mini-scaled for a start, but this lets have me direct contact with my peers, which is also an advantage.

    I just want try things out and see what happens. But I believe we can move things and if I cannot, others will do it. People are getting tired from the superficiality of Google.

    I do not know if you remember the Altavista search engine at the end of the nineties. Altavista was experimenting with semantic trees, they offered, based on the search terms you used. Then you could browse those trees. I do not say that’s the directions to go, but at least they tried things out, they were experimenting, there was some progress. Today all search engines (except Wikipedias) look like Google. You see what influence they have got. All research stopped for a few years. Unbelievable, but true.

    Bur I think we must not be pessimistic. When I see my kids multitasking behind their computer, they were born in the information age, they are pretty critical and build communities, like men has always done. Well there is a lot more I wanted to say, but I think we are on the same line. I will inform you when the experiments start, probably in April 2009.

    Thanx for your invitation to write an article for OpenDemocracy. I sure will do, but give me some more time. I need to study still a lot of texts, but when my ideas are outlined I will sent you a proposal. Thanx again for your visit.
    Kind Regards,

    Daniël

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