Brin cautioned that there were "very powerful forces that have lined up against the open internet on all sides and around the world. I am more worried than I have been in the past . . . it’s scary."
In China – which currently has more internet users than any country in the world – the government recently presented new "real identity" rules in a bid to tame the country’s energetic micro-blogging scene. In Russia there are dominant demands to rein in a blogosphere that was blamed for stimulating a wave of anti-Putin protests. It has been stated that Iran is planning to introduce a sealed "national internet" within the year.
From Hollywood’s attempts to pass legislation allowing pirate websites to be shut down, to the British government’s plans to monitor social media and web use, the philosophy of openness campaigned by the pioneers of the internet and world wide web is being challenged on a number of fronts.
Avaaz, The 14 million-strong online activist network which has been providing communication equipment and training to Syrian activists saw co-founder Ricken Patel reverberate Brin’s warning: "We’ve seen a massive attack on the freedom of the web. Governments are realizing the power of this medium to organize people and they are trying to clamp down across the world, not just in places like China and North Korea; we’re seeing bills in the United States, in Italy, all across the world."
He kept his toughest words for the entertainment industry, which he said was "shooting itself in the foot, or maybe worse than in the foot" by lobbying for legislation to block sites offering pirate material.
He believed the SOPA and PIPA bills supported by Hollywood and the music industry would have led to the US using the same technology and approach it criticized China and Iran for using. The entertainment industry failed to appreciate that people would continue to download pirated content as long as it was easier to acquire and use than legitimately obtained material, he said.
As well as criticizing Hollywood and China; Brin also said the quantity of control Facebook and Apple use over their online platforms and user base was "stifling innovation" and "balkanizing the Web."
Sure, Google aren’t exactly without their flaws and they have had many controversial issues in the past relating to freedom and privacy. Google recently announced that blurry house numbers acquired from Street View will be used to force users to decipher reCaptcha codes, which although may concern people, does not actually breach your privacy. No one wants to compare the numbers to your actual house and visit you – some people are just being incredibly paranoid. Well, as CNET’s Chris Matyszczyk puts it – Google has disturbing gestures where “the aim is gravitate your mind and habits over to the Google eBook store, where money is exchanged for enlightenment." Why the concern? Because Google was linking free eBooks to its Charles Dickens appreciations doodle.
Brin acknowledged that some people were apprehensive regarding the data that is in the grasp of US authorities. He said the company was periodically forced to hand over data and sometimes prevented by legal restrictions from even notifying users that it had done so. I would be more anxious about that anything else.