Google founder cites Apple, Facebook as threats to online freedom

Sergey Brin warns of "very powerful forces" trying to restrict internet use

Google co-founder Sergey Brin has admitted his growing concern over the "very powerful forces" trying to restrict freedom on the internet.

In an interview with The Guardian, Brin described the efforts of governments and companies to control online activity as "scary."

"I am more worried than I have been in the past," he said. "I thought there was no way to put the genie back in the bottle, but now it seems in certain areas the genie has been put back in the bottle."

Governments in countries like China, Saudi Arabia and Iran have been more successful in restricting internet use than Brin thought possible, but our online freedom is also under threat in subtler ways.

Brin cited the enormous popularity of 'walled gardens" like Facebook and the App Store as significant obstacles in the way of further innovation on the web.

"There's a lot to be lost," he said. "For example, all the information in apps - that data is not crawlable by web crawlers. You can't search it."

"The kind of environment that we developed Google in, the reason that we were able to develop a search engine, is the web was so open. Once you get too many rules, that will stifle innovation."

He also criticised Facebook for making it difficult for users to transfer their data to other services, and claimed that, "Facebook has been sucking down Gmail contacts for many years."

Last week, Google announced a stock split that will ensure that control of the company's stays with its founders - a decision motivated by increasingly fierce competition from companies like Apple and Facebook.

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Latest comments (6)

Joshua Rose Executive Producer / Lead Designer, Storm Eagle Studios5 years ago
Correct me if I'm wrong... but wasn't Google the target of a 'threat to online freedom' situation a while back when they came out with their whole 'one policy to rule them all' thing?

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for internet freedom. But this honestly seems more like a PR stunt more than anything else.

Google says Apple threatens online freedom. Let's look at the other side, Apple is kicking the crap out of any other company when it comes to mobile platforms, including Google. So right there, we have Google simply using current issues to trash their competitors.

Google says Facebook threatens online freedom. Let's look at the other side, Facebook is the number one social networking site on the internet, and isn't going anywhere anytime soon. Google, over the last year or so, has released their own social networking platform, which (surprise surprise) is in direct competiton with Facebook. So here again we have Google simply using current issues to trash their competitors.

Now let's look at it from everybody else's perspective. Google's new 'one policy to rule them all' deal got a lot of flak. It basically allows them free reign to data mine the hell out of your overall internet usage. You have a gmail/youtube account? Awesome! Do you know what you have to allow by using it? Most people probably don't realize that if you leave your google account logged in, it activly tracks your browsing history as well as many other things that you do while on the internet (I'm paraphrasing here, so if I'm wrong in any way please correct me).

We get enough threats to internet freedom from the US government alone... Take what companies say about competition with a grain of salt.
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John Blackburne Programmers 5 years ago
They are only threats to freedom as Google define it. Freedom to browse the unprotected web, where they can monitor your activity with cookies, track your location via your phone, so to sell your information to the highest bidder for their advertising products.

It's scary for Google as it's not (equally evil) companies they're up against. It's companies like Facebook and Apple that are customer led, so treat users well, not as assets to be sold on. It's impossible for a company with such a warped approach to compete against normal companies. Unless they change I can't see them being around in five years.
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Nicholas Pantazis Senior Editor, VGChartz Ltd5 years ago
@ Joshua None of those policies of Google's EULA restrict information, so I'm not sure why you're bringing them up. They aren't really relevant to this discussion. I'm not saying they're good policies (a lot of people don't want their browsing information stored by a mega-corporation), but I don't see how they're remotely relevant to internet freedom.

@ Jon You also seem to have succumed to the massive amount of misinformation about what data google actually collects and what they do with it. No one seems to have actually read their new EULA before deciding it was evil, and pretty much everything you said Jon is patently false.

What Google does with your data:
-Creates a custom cookie to refine search results to be more relevant to you based on past pages browsed and demographic
-Creates a second custom cookie which pairs Google Ads to your account based on search results (called interest-based ads).

What Google doesn't do with your data:
-Anything else. They don't sell any personal information, they don't give any information to advertisers, they don't track sensitive information (relgion, sex, porn searches, financial data, etc.), and they don't track or store anything you do on secure websites (gmail, your bank websites, paypal, etc.).

You can even opt-out of those two cookies. Google tracks nothing about your identity or personal information outside of the standard encoded saved data that's on servers of any service you've ever logged into, and none of that information is ever used for anything inside of Google's services or outside. Google doesn't send a single ounce of information to advertisers. Advertisers send THEM ads then they pair them with your search data using a completely private cookie.

Seriously am I the only one who actually read the EULA? Also, Google is a consumer-facing company. Almost everything they do is open-source, while Apple is, as the article calls it, a "walled garden." And, ironically given your statement, Facebook actually DOES sell private information to advertisers, while Google keeps everything on their end to protect you.

On the topic of the article itself, I don't think you really understand what the article is talking about. He's talking about walled gardens. Places that restrict access outside their area of operation, and limit what users can do with their own information. Facebook is notoriously horrible about this. I don't think Apps are as big an issue at the moment, but at some point if Apps became a major source of information they could be. That said, Google runs an app market as well...

Anyway, I do think he's overreacting to the situation, but he's not entirely wrong. We should be focusing on making sure information is publicly available.

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Nicholas Pantazis on 16th April 2012 5:42pm

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Michael Vandendriessche Studying Computer Science, K.U. Leuven5 years ago
This is why I hate facebook.
Unfortunately the advantages of using it outweigh the disadvantages.
I still hate it, but there is useful information on there. (What's wrong with e-mailing pictures these days?)

I prefer my information to be with Google than with apple or facebook.
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Sergio Rosa "Somewhat-Creative Director", Domaginarium5 years ago
The only thing that really worries them is the fact that they can't sell you ads through Facebook or iOS apps... On top of anything else, including wearing "the free people of the internet" mask, Google is an advertising company.
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Murray Lorden Game Designer & Developer, MUZBOZ5 years ago
I admire Google, on the whole, so far, by keeping their products and services streamlined and "for the people" on the most part.

Like television and radio, over the years, these traditional mediums have been brought to us all, for free, because of ads. The ads can be very annoying, but they are effectively providing all of the (sometimes) great content over the years, to us, for free.

And now, Google gives us Google Search, YouTube, Google Maps, and many other amazing technologies and services, FREE, because they also serve ads. I won't hold that against them.

I do worry about where we'll all be at in another 10 or 20 years, when ever square millimeter of the world has been digitized, recorded, tracked, and our lives are "as one" with the data that defines us. That, I worry about.

But as it stands, I trust Google relatively well with my data. I have an Android phone, and you can hardly help sharing your login details with every second app or webpage you go to these days, if you ever want to leave a comment, or have the website or app actually "link up" with your personal details, you're constantly prompted to "sign in with Twitter by clicking this button", or "link to Facebook by clicking this button". It gotten to the point where I do it without much thought, and I have no idea how the massive web of my connectivity is all joined these days. Bit weird. Bit scary.

But at least Google seem to have a benevolent open source ideology. So that's one thing to (currently) be thankful for. :)

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