Author Archives: Dominic Young

Is “disruptive” a dirty word all of a sudden?

One of the most revered words for internet entrepreneurs is “disruption”.

“What will you be disrupting?”, keen youngsters are asked when pitching their ideas. Being a disruptive company is a badge of honour, a sign of intelligence and innovative zeal – achieving success by “disrupting” someone else’s/

Of course, one person’s disruption is usually someone else’s destruction, and the outcome is by no means a good one in many circumstances. That’s not to say disruption can’t be a driver of value and progress, just that it doesn’t equate to it.

So it’s interesting to see an internet person having something bad to say about disruption. Tim Berners-Lee has been talking about the “disruptive threat” the ITU poses to groups that are already “doing a good job” of running the internet.

He may well be right (although any extended discussion of groups like W3C and ICANN rarely ends in a warm fuzzy feeling of contentment with a job being done well), but “doing a good job” has never traditionally been much of a defence against being disrupted into oblivion in the age of the internet.

Now, it’s quite possible that the ITU proposals under discussion are indeed ill conceived. But whinging about disruption seems a bit old-fashioned in the age of the ever-changing internet.

Webageddon – an update

The forthcoming end of the internet, in the form of the ITU’s conference, is getting underway, so I thought I would have another look at the “Take Action” page on Google’s site in more detail.

Google says: “Some governments are trying to use a closed-door meeting in December to regulate the internet’

and

“only governments have a voice at the ITU”.

The Guardian today reports that “Four Google representatives, including telecom policy counsel Aparna Sridhar, will attend WCIT as part of a 100-strong US delegation”

Google says “The ITU is also secretive. The treaty conference and proposals are confidential.”

The ITU says “WCIT-12 will not be convened behind closed doors. Governments are encouraged to include both private sector and civil society representatives on their national delegations.”

This would seem to be confirmed by the fact that Google are sending four representatives. The ITU also says

“…membership unanimously accepted the proposal of Dr. Touré, ITU Secretary-General, to make public the main proposals document – a fact that could have easily been verified with ITU. This document is available on ITU’s WCIT-12 website.

(it’s worth reading that whole blog post).

I’m not making any points at all about the detail of the proposals or the pros or cons of arguments on either side. But the nature of the debate doesn’t seem to be aiming at an honest or open discussion of the facts. On the face of it, Google is making bald assertions which are at odds with reality. They are using these assertions to persuade people to put their names to a petition opposing the ITU proposals.

They might well have important points to make about the issues, but they don’t seem to be making them on their “take action” page. Doesn’t that make their whole petition a little redundant? “Governments alone, working behind closed doors, should not direct [the future of the internet]” they say. But it would seem that’s not what they’re trying to do, not least because they have Google keeping them company.

Here we go again, watch out Internet!

I am sure we’ll hear more shrill warblings about this one.

In one corner, the ITU which is a UN agency which does the dull-but-essential work to make sure phone systems connect together around the world, manages dialling codes, organises radio spectrum use and satellite orbits and various other administrivia to ensure that it meets it goal of “connecting all the world’s people – wherever they live and whatever their means”. They are having a conference in Dubai soon and which proposes to discuss a treaty which may have some impact on aspects of the internet.

In the other corner, Google who, despite pointing out – on their rather thin on detail “Take Action” page – that the ITU proposals are confidential, seem confident enough to claim that the proposals could lead censorship of free speech, and impose “tolls” (aka costs) on companies like YouTube (aka Google), Facebook and Skype.

So, despite their rather Googleish mission statement, Google has taken against the ITU.

According to the ITU Secretary-General, they want to “address the current disconnect between sources of revenue and sources of costs, and to decide upon the most appropriate way to do so”. Of course, being a UN agency, ITU delegations are attended by governments (who can bring whoever they want) and include governments big and small from all over the world. Google doesn’t like this either, and objects to governments (even, presumably those democratically elected to represent the interests of their people) “directing the future” of the internet.

Looking at the ITU website, this conference looks like one of the long and ponderous little cogs which keep the glacial machine of international treaty making turning and its hard to believe there is some sinister conspiracy here. They’re just doing what they do, the same as they always have. Since the proposals are not public, I have no idea if some or all of the claims being made about them are right. Maybe Google knows more. Either way they’re getting their attack in early.

Anyway, this is shaping up to be another SOPA/PIPA-style shouting match. If Cory Doctorow hasn’t ranted already it can’t be long until he does. Lets hope people with sensitive hearing are actually able to detect the facts as it progresses, just in case common sense can find a part to play…

A judge just broke the internet

Apparently making websites friendly to people with disabilities is the end of the internet as we know it.

From Forbes

The Declaration of Internet Freedom will save the internet from being broken

The “jargon-free” declaration, building on the success in preventing SOPA and PIPA from Breaking the Internet, is to “prevent Congress from passing legislation … that infringes on personal freedom” also seems meaning-free. It’s as if Bill and Ted had written the Bill of Rights… “Be Excellent to Each Other”.  Particularly pleased to see that “defend everyone’s ability to control how their data and devices are used” is a core tenet because it is a strong endorsement of copyright. Hurrah!

Web freedom faces greatest threat ever, warns Google’s Sergey Brin

From a discussion with the Guardian (also touching on arguably better points about censorship by government)

“There’s a lot to be lost. For example, all the information in apps – that data is not crawlable by web crawlers. You can’t search it”

“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.”

See also my thoughts here

“Burning to death” is the price of copyright infringement

In another classic rant, Cory Doctorow somehow contrives to allege that the RIAA, and specifically its boss Cary Sherman (representing “some of the worst companies in the world”), can “cost your children their ability to complete their education”, “cost you your job”, “cut you off from civic and political engagement”, cost you your ability to stay in touch with your family and, if your phone service is provided via VOIP, remove your 911 access. “Because burning to death is only too good a fate for people accused, without proof, of copyright infringement”.

I think this is some advanced form of applied chaos theory.

Fabulously scary video

This video is a sort of genius, because it’s brilliantly presented and produced, makes some very alarming and confident predictions and offers no evidence whatsoever to support any of its assertions. And nearly half a million people have watched it. Some quotes below.

“A new bill proposes we give the power to censor the internet to the entertainment industry”

“Protect IP will cripple new startups”

“These lawsuits could easily bankrupt new search engines and social media sites”

“Even if you trust the US government not to abuse their new power to censor the net, what about the countries who follow in our path and pass similar laws? … Unscrupulous governments will have powerful tools to hinder free expression.”

“Experts believe that by fiddling with the web’s registry of domain names the result will be less security and less stability”

“In short, Protect-IP won’t stop piracy but it will introduce vast potential for censorship and abuse while making the web less safe and less reliable”

“The government is tampering with [the internet’s] basic structure so people will, maybe, buy more Hollywood movies.”

“The entire entertainment industry doesn’t even contribute that much to our economy”.

“sharing is broken on the web”

A bit of a digression but I was struck by the phrase “sharing is broken on the web” in James Whittaker’s blog post about why he left Google. He was describing the internal declaration within Google which led to their Google+ strategy, what I found telling about it other than the language was the binary attitude it suggests. Something is either broken or not broken. Google can fix broken things by applying superior intelligence and resource.

Read the whole post, it’s interesting and all the more credible for not being a score-settling rant.

Paying publishers will “slow down the internet”

Quite a moderate view from Eric Schmidt, in response to the proposal that German newspaper publishers get a revenue stream from companies which aggregate their content online. The full quote is quite telling, though… “I fear that such a regulation would slow down the development of the Internet because it creates additional costs and leads to inefficiencies”. Equating cost with inefficiency is interesting, it suggests that the most efficient (and therefore best) company is one with no costs. It also suggests that cost is, somehow, bad – free is always better.

Eric Schmidt works for Google, a company with a 65% gross margin and only one significant revenue stream supporting all their loss-making projects, and who pay nothing for their key resource (other people’s content). They do, however, charge for their own service (advertising), creating cost for other  people. Wouldn’t it be more efficient, therefore better according to his theory, if they gave it all away for free?

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