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April 28, 2017

An Open Letter to My Friends at Google

You run a fantastically successful business. You deliver search results so valuable that we willingly trade the history of our search requests for free access. Your private network of data centers, content caches and Internet connections assure that Google data pops quickly off our screen. Your free Chrome browser, Android operating system, and gmail see our communication before it gets to the Internet and gets a last look at what comes back from the Internet before passing it on to us. You make billions by monetizing this information with at least our implied consent. I mean all this as genuine praise.

But I think you’ve made a mistake by inviting the regulatory genie on to the Internet. Have you considered that Google is likely to be the next regulatory target?

The Internet and its many business have flourished for the last twenty years under the light regulatory touch that Google used to espouse in the early days of the Internet. It is just as true now as it was at the end of the 20th century that imposing regulations designed for monopoly telcos on the Internet will decrease competition, stifle innovation, and certainly not achieve “Net Neutrality”.

Twenty years ago it was the telcos who wanted regulation to protect them from innovative Internet competitors. With Google’s help, innovation was preserved. But in 2015 Google was a leader among companies which successfully lobbied the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) to end twenty years of bipartisan regulatory forbearance and declare that Internet access providers (ISPs) are common carriers under the telecommunications act of 1934 and should be regulated as such. Do you think Google needs regulatory help to fight off the ISPs as potential competitors? Once you meant to compete with them by building Google Fiber. We do need competition. Neither Google nor the telcos should be shielded from it.

When Congress cancelled a pending “privacy” regulation from the FCC earlier this year, which was based on this new regulatory authority, a misinformed congressman complained that he didn’t want Comcast knowing his underwear size. He apparently searched for underwear online and was then deluged with underwear ads. But you know that he got those ads because of his search history, not because his ISP was disassembling his packets. How long do you think it will before there is significant pressure in the US to stop the abuse the congressman claims to have suffered by regulating search providers? I think that would be a terrible idea and I’m sure you do as well.

How long do you think it will be before protestor signs says that a neutral Internet requires neutral search engines? Even if you protest that Google search IS neutral – just as the ISPs say they don’t favor their own packets – the protestors will say that Google is a profit-making enterprise so proactive regulation is needed. And shouldn’t a neutral Internet require neutral browsers? There are already stories that Google is planning to put code in Chrome which blocks some ads. Do browsers need to be regulated? What about email services which have all our private communications? What about mobile phone operating systems which see all our bits before they even get to the “evil” ISPs.

You at Google have shown your ability to learn and adapt. It’s probably too much to ask that you reverse your lobbying efforts again and support efforts to undo the unwise Internet regulation promulgated in 2015. But it might be a good idea to concentrate more on actually competing with ISPs in the marketplace rather than in in the regulatorium where you won’t be able to innovate either. We’ll all be losers if Google innovation is shutdown.

See excellent Boston Globe article Trump’s FCC can save the Internet — by doing nothing by Hiawatha Bray.

See also Don’t Make the Internet Safe for Monopolies, Net Neutrality. What’s It All About? and Do you Want Comcast to Know Your Underwear Size?

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