Google might not exist today had dominant rivals like Facebook been around when Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin created their search powerhouse, says Brin. In an interview with the Guardian, Brin says the Internet as a place to freely exchange information with access for all is threatened by “very powerful forces.” Those forces include restrictive governments in China and Iran, but also Facebook, Apple and the entertainment industry, says Brin, adding that he’s “more worried than … in the past.”
Worried about what, specifically? Brin says he’s most troubled by what governments in countries like China, Iran and Saudi Arabia have done to lock down and manipulate their respective Internet ecologies, claiming there are “very powerful forces that have lined up against the open internet on all sides and around the world.” But he extends that critique to the entertainment industry’s attempts to crack down on piracy as well as companies like Apple and Facebook, who he says — the irony here is unmissable — have proprietary platforms that could or may already be having a deleterious effect on the open-ended nature of the Internet.
“There’s a lot to be lost,” he told the Guardian. “For example, all the information in apps – that data is not crawlable by web crawlers. You can’t search it.”
Of course Google is itself a proprietary platform. What you see when you search for something using Google, and the order in which those results appear, is ultimately the purview of Google’s search algorithms. And the company faces a probe by the FTC after complaints its “Search plus Your World,” which returns personal information shared by you through Google+ in search results, violates antitrust principles. Google rival Twitter, for instance, isn’t indexed by the search tool, which favors Google’s alternative service, Google+ (though Google claims that’s Twitter’s fault).
Nonetheless, Brin says he and co-founder Larry Page couldn’t have created Google had Facebook existed with its present user base of over 800 million worldwide. “You have to play by their rules, which are really restrictive,” he told the Guardian. “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.”
As for countries like Iran and China, Brin says “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,” referring to actions like IP blocking and DNS filtering in China as well as the Iranian government’s attempts to regulate the Internet, including requirements that ISPs implement content-control software to block government-forbidden websites.
What about Google’s own culpability in government-launched privacy incursions? Brin says Google “[pushes] back a lot” and takes measures to protect personal data, but ends the interview with wishful thinking: “If we could wave a magic wand and not be subject to US law, that would be great. If we could be in some magical jurisdiction that everyone in the world trusted, that would be great … We’re doing it as well as can be done.”