“Don’t be evil.”
This was long Google’s motto, and one I quite admired in a large company. This meant that every potential action taken by the company should be considered against whether this was something that would cause harm or not. And for the most part, despite some privacy concerns, I have felt that on balance what Google has given the world was indeed on the side of the good, and sometimes even the amazing. This was a company that I felt by and large deserved their great profit. But if this New York Times article is to be believed, Google has abandoned that motto and their own previously stated positions. Google has abandoned the idea of net neutrality, a cornerstone of the Internet. In a nutshell, net neutrality says that any content on the internet, whether produced by you or I or the White House or Google or Apple, will be on a level playing field with regard to the connections to it. Think about how important this principle is. It is what makes a great democracy of the internet. It is what allows anyone, anywhere to publish a web page that can be viewed by the entire world. According to The NY Times, this agreement will allow Verizon to play traffic cop with the content, and deliver it more reliably and faster for those willing to pay more (or less reliably and slower to those who pay less). When companies as large as Google and Verizon collude in this way, it becomes fait accompli across the spectrum. Other companies will follow suit, and because a Bush era court has struck down the FCC’s power to enforce net neutrality, only Congress could pass legislation to ensure fairness. And that doesn’t seem very likely since so many there are in the pockets of their major corporate sponsors.
Imagine if your phone service calling worked better if you paid more, that for a certain price companies would connect you first or without dropping calls. Or that by charging more you could call more numbers instead of dialing anyone you like? How about electricity that comes to your home? How about for a greater fee you could guarantee that when power had to be cut to the system, that yours would not be, or would be cut last? How about police and fire protection? How about, for a fee police and fire services would give you priority over other victims? How about voting? If you paid a greater amount of taxes, you would get more votes or your vote would have more weight, how does that sound?
The internet ushered in a world where everyone is a potential publisher, everyone has a chance to be heard. The idea that at a company’s whim or by what they charge you they can decide who gets to see your content and how fast, is anathema to democratic ideals, poison to the idea of free speech. It puts control of the internet in private hands, where it was never meant to be. The internet is a public resource in the public sphere, and it must remain equal access.
Can’t we all try just a little harder not to be evil?
UPDATE: I hope reports like these contradicting the NYT are correct.