Monday, March 10, 2008

Do Google and China control the Web?

In James R. Beniger's text, "Who Shall Control Cyberspace?", he makes the case that the web is a prime target of commercial and political exploitation. Indeed, through forced means, either businesses or goverments could control portions of the web with ruthless power. However, the problem with the web isn't just control, it's jurisdiction.

The reason The Pirate Bay continues to dumb found American authorties is because their central servers are located in Sweden (never mind the debate as to whether BitTorrent trackers are actually infringing on copyright). Thus, all the laws the US passes literally cannot touch the Pirate Bay because they are in this country's jurisdiction. And while the US could pressure Sweden, there's no reason the organization can't relocate their server to another country (or buy their own which they attempted with Sealand).

However, there is one company that most people would agree "controls" the web. And that company, of course, is the famous Google. This might not be truly apparent because Google has not chosen to greatly abuse their powers. But just think about it for a moment. Google is the homepage of the web. If they choose to blacklist your site (and they have their reasons) then how would one ever find your site. Sure you could pass out the URL or depend on links from other sites, but for most of the web, your page is non-existent.

The other obvious controlling agent is the government in countries like Turkey and China. However, there are many technological tools which allow internet connections to break through their firewalls and open the end user up to the entire web. Whistle blowers and bloggers within China use this method to post articles and blogs without the fear of suppression. Such tools are usually trivially easy.

This probably isn't exactly what Beniger is talking about when he speaks of control. But these powers are probably the greatest control one entity can wield over the web. The internet's architects, maintainers, and a good potion of its users enjoy the comforts a lack of control can provide. And many will want and fight to keep it that way.


Lance Strate said...

Beniger opens up the issue of control, and that is the main thing. The question then grows increasingly more complex, as the internet has moved from being a US-based medium to an international and global one (and the two are not identical). Good points here, Ted!

rwalsh42 said...

What about China cutting off the internet and other means of communication in Tibet? Can we stand up against the Chinese and help the Tibetans by protesting the 2008 Bejing Olympics?