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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

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First POST: Creeping

Senator Al Franken's tough questions for Uber's CEO; how the NSA could make its phone metadata program permanent; global privacy groups launch a personal spyware catcher called Detekt; and much, much more. GO

Recreation.gov and other Govt Projects Move Toward Embracing New Digital Approach

A draft request for proposals for the revamping of Recreation.gov will include a requirement that reservation availability data be publicly accessible and that all proposals detail how they will enable third-party sales, as two members of the United States Digital Services have joined the government team overseeing the RFP, meeting some key demands of civic technologists and consumer oriented technology companies. GO

wednesday >

First POST: Ubermenschens

Surge-pricing in effect for Uber privacy violations; why "privacy" policies should be called "data usage" policies; pols silent on Uber mess; and much, much more. GO

tuesday >

First POST: Uber Falles

Uber exposed for plan to dig up dirt on journalist critics; sneaking a SOPA provision into the USA Freedom Act; high-speed free WiFi coming to NYC; and much, much more. GO

monday >

First POST: Differences

How to use Twitter to circumvent campaign coordination rules; the net neutrality debate keeps getting hotter; charting the gender balance at dataviz conference using dataviz; and much, much more. GO

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