It’s Your World Wide Web

Sign at Google’s headquarters

Searching “news” on Google leads to an interesting result. The major Internet search engine corporation has been frequently making its own headlines in the past few months. These recent stories curiously do not follow the typical repertoire of purchased acquisitions, a gargantuan Google gobbling up smaller companies. In fact, the corporation’s image of unrelenting growth is now marred by a few cases of struggles and even defeat.

For instance, on February 24th, three big names in Google’s administration were labeled criminals under Italian media law [1]. Additionally, stringent censorship of queries in China has forced the company to face the possibility of giving up its significant revenue source in Asia [2]. This recent turn of events may illustrate a Google under distress but simultaneously highlights a sociological truth. People who actively participate in online culture, also called netizens, are responsible for producing their own value and, in turn, influencing the world they occupy.

The Web is the ideal medium for the public to contribute and absorb ideas. This communication is versatile, as it can take shape in several forms such as blogging and video chats. Furthermore, the Internet is easily accessible, and websites can be updated instantaneously. Its presence extends globally as well. Consequently, users’ actions can have an impact to the same extent. The Italian incident is an example of how the common man’s abuse of the Web’s network has cost Google and, more importantly, may introduce regulation to the Internet.

A clip posted onto Google Video in 2006 shows an autistic student in Turin being insulted and physically assaulted with objects thrown by classmates [3]. In a symbolic clash between personal privacy and public freedom of expression, the Italian court asserts that Google violated privacy laws because the company is allegedly making advertisement revenue from the victim’s personal data [4]. As a result, the corporation’s chief privacy counsel, senior vice president, and former chief financial officer each received a six-month suspended sentence [5]. This mishap raises alarming questions for the future of virtual independence, a right that firmly defines the Web’s founding principles.

Is this one defeat going to cripple Google? Absolutely not. However, there are more serious implications to be considered. The root of the problem with the Italian court decision is that “the mailman got blamed for delivering a malicious letter” [6]. It is evident that Google and its executives had no involvement in recording or uploading the video clip, yet Italian law punishes the corporation. This case is the first instance in which the company is guilty for outside content posted onto its system [7]. Similar accusations may easily become a destructive norm in the future, knowing how legal cases tend to use former decisions as precedents.

If companies and executives continue to be held liable for hosting user-uploaded material, then some level of regulation to minimize risks is inevitable. Regrettably, the possibility of clashing with the law will sharply silence millions of potential voices. From the netizen’s perspective, the extra effort to pass a censorship filter is not worth the injustice in regulating the Internet. Businesses may refrain from posting expressions of opinions that may be prosecuted. Online publications with good intentions of exposing corruption, negligence, or crime in government and society will never reach the Web to issue a warning to the world.

The Chinese government’s control of its media exemplifies an existing model of the potential consequences of the Google verdict in Italy. Google declared in 2006 that it would strive to make free speech more accessible in China. The search engine company’s most notable approach is to insist that the government tear down its “Great Firewall,” which prevents Chinese users from finding information and images that oppose government interests [8].

Unfortunately, Google has not made much progress. Three years after stating its bold mission, Google China (google.cn) is still censoring politically sensitive search queries, such as Tiananmen Square, in order to stay in the market [9]. But this January, the corporation issued an ultimatum that may break the stalemate in its progress. After Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists were forcibly accessed in a cyber attack, Google announced it was no longer willing to cooperate with Chinese media laws and would stop censoring search results on google.cn [10]. Of course, this would mean that Google would have to surrender its operations in China.

Despite Google’s disguise of an altruistic goal to open up flexibility of expression in China, it turns out that Chinese netizens are thriving on their own. One particular case demonstrates how a positive use of the Internet can dramatically incur success and simultaneously become a valuable resource for other net users.

Wang Jianshuo opened up a personal blog in 2002. He published a simple post that provided information about the shuttle service at Pudong Airport in Shanghai. Within two weeks, his blog was accumulating so much traffic that Google’s page ranking system spit out his webpage as the first search result for “Pudong Airport” [11]. The key to Mr. Wang’s success was that his bus schedule information was one of very few written in English; foreign travelers to Shanghai flocked to his blog for help.

Now, Internet users can worry less about censored search results in China. Bloggers stationed within the country post all the information possible, including opinionated posts. The best part about the contemporary wave of blogs is that owners have never reported a case of being shut down by China’s Internet patrol squad. Discussions critiquing the one-child policy or the national university entrance exam, which were unthinkable in the past, now flood with activity as a result of personal websites [12].

In support of the argument that people form themselves through the Internet, Americans have even jumpstarted careers by maintaining private blogs. For instance, John Pasden began his by posting daily reflections of living in China. He now manages an online language school that teaches Chinese [13].

The World Wide Web truly belongs to its users and their actions. An unforgivable video produced by a group of Italian teenagers sparks a debate between personal privacy and freedom to publish any data. A Chinese blogger provides living evidence that a giant Internet search engine is not necessary to work around China’s stringent media regulation. Google can be thanked for making news headlines that prove the Internet is your World – so how will you contribute?

References

  1. Barry, Colleen. Italy convicts 3 Google execs in abuse video case. Associated Press. February 24, 2010. http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100224/ap_on_hi_te/eu_italy_google_trial (accessed February 24, 2010).
  2. BBC News. Google ‘may pull out of China after Gmail cyber attack’. January 13, 2010. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8455712.stm (accessed February 24, 2010).
  3. Donadio, Rachel. Larger Threat Is Seen in Google Case. February 24, 2010. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/25/technology/companies/25google.html?pagewanted=1&ref=world (accessed February 24, 2010).
  4. Barry, Italy convicts 3 Google execs in abuse video case.
  5. Donadio, Larger Threat Is Seen in Google Case.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Barry, Italy convicts 3 Google execs in abuse video case.
  8. Liedtke, Michael. Google’s convoluted search for China compromise. Associated Press. February 11, 2010. http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5guOs90WI2MS9hDERAfAJe-9a1lwgD9DQ83EG2 (accessed February 24, 2010).
  9. Krazit, Tom. Google’s censorship struggles continue in China. cnet. June 16, 2009. http://www.cnn.com/2009/TECH/06/16/cnet.google.tiananmen.square/index.html (accessed February 24, 2010).
  10. Macmanus, Richard. Despite Tough Talk, Google Still Censoring in China. Read Write Web. February 24, 2010. http://www.nytimes.com/external/readwriteweb/2010/02/24/24readwriteweb-despite-tough-talk-google-still-censoring-i-42333.html (accessed February 24, 2010).
  11. Cannon, Maile, and Jingying Yang. Bloggers Open an Internet Window on Shanghai. February 24, 2010. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/25/technology/25iht-rshanblog.html?ref=technology (accessed February 24, 2010).
  12. Ibid.
  13. Ibid.

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