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The Idea that Is Google

BY Nancy Scola | Tuesday, August 31 2010

Evgeny Morozov emerges from three months in the Belorussian forest no more enamored with the U.S. State Department's vision of "digital diplomacy" than when he went in:

In 2009 it became obvious -- for American diplomats anyway -- that Washington was in a unique position to exploit the fact that so many Silicon Valley companies were uncontested leaders in so many markets and that so much civic and political activism was emerging in those digital spaces. In 2010 American diplomats squandered such opportunities by unnecessarily politicizing this space, alerting their very opponents of the political uses to which the Internet can be put (e.g. making contact with Twitter during the protests in Iran -- which I take to be the worst possible intervention into digital matters by the U.S. government ever). In 2011, we'll be seeing all sorts of pushback against the very Silicon Valley companies that were previously thought to be largely unpolitical market leaders. Everyone was fine with Google being the most popular search engine in their country until Washington began acting as if Google's market leadership may also be politically expedient (which, of course, it's not -- but claiming otherwise makes for great newspaper copy).

Now, Google's not the first company to rally behind a U.S. foreign policy that would also just so happen to help its business prospects in places where it sees viable markets and projects. Not by a long shot. But Evgeny picks up on something relevant and, I think, quite real. Leave aside, for a second, the quite justifiable argument that an American foreign policy apparatus that ignored the Internet and all that it entails would be dumb, slow, and disadvantaged. But you see Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her allies inside State embracing the political idea of global "Internet freedom," and doing it with Google's backing (at least for the time being -- they've been known to change their minds), while at the same flying in American tech company delegations to Baghdad, Bogota, and Damascus that have to, in even slight cynical minds, raise the specter of American profiteering. That's not a completely untenable dynamic, but does require some sort of theory of practice for digital diplomacy that we haven't seen yet.

News Briefs

RSS Feed tuesday >

First POST: Company

The global "Snowden effect" is huge; how many consumer-facing online services fail the user privacy test; the Dems' 2016 digital to-do list; and much, much more. GO

monday >

First POST: Mood Slime

The Sony email leak reveals the MPAA's campaign against Google; how Uber is lobbying in local markets; mapping the #MillionsMarchNYC; and much, much more. GO

friday >

First POST: Cloudy

What the Internet is not; new analysis of public opinion on net neutrality; how cloud backup apparently foiled a police coverup; and much, much more. GO

thursday >

First POST: Records

Is the future of citizen journalism vigilantism?; one tech mogul's vocal support for CIA torture; a cri de couer from the founder of the Pirate Bay; and much, much more. GO

Web Index Sees Impact of Net Neutrality, Surveillance and Copyright Laws

Denmark, Finland, Norway, the United Kingdom and Sweden have come out on top of the Web Index, a ranking of the Web Foundation measuring the economic, social and political benefit that countries gain from the web. The United States is at number six. For the authors of the report accompanying the index, the results reflect how inequality has an impact on access to the web. "Nordic policy-makers have been quick to adopt and promote the free Internet - and open access to information - as a 21st century public good," the report states. " Others, as this year's findings show, need to move fast to catch up." The report attributes the Scandinavian countries' advantage to the countries' broader efforts to invest in public goods and establish a welfare and acting against " excess concentrations of wealth and power." With the lower inequality in those countries than in others, "the skills, means and freedoms to benefit from new technologies are widespread, which helps to explain why Scandinavian countries score highly on the political, social and economic impact of the Web GO

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