Category Archives: Governments are bad

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…