3.18.2012

google, facebook, twitter: corporate dictatorships, and we their willing subjects

I'm sure Canadian readers have noticed Blogger's new blogspot.ca addresses. Blog-readers the world over are seeing country-specific domain addresses, as Google has decided to make it easy to aid government censorship.
Why does my blog redirect to a country-specific URL?

Q: Why am I seeing a URL change?
A: In the next few months the website address of a blog you're reading may be redirected to a country-specific domain. For example, if you're in Australia and viewing [blogname].blogspot.com, you might be redirected to [blogname].blogspot.com.au. The country-specific domain should correspond to the country where you're currently located.

Q: Why is this happening?
A: We are doing this to provide more support for managing content locally. If we receive a removal request that violates local law, that content may no longer be available to readers on local domains where those laws apply. This update is in line with our approach to free expression and controversial content, which hasn’t changed.
Google is not, as many headlines claim, beginning country-specific censorship themselves. But Google has a lot of power, and they've just made it easier to exercise it.

Private corporations now control enormous amounts of information. They make their own rules and answer to no one. People like to say that we should "vote with our wallets", but how is that possible when (a) the service is free, (b) the service is necessary and/or (c) the company has a monopoly or near-monopoly? There are supposed to be some governmental checks on media consolidation, but they're a joke, and even those jokes haven't kept pace with new technologies.

In a democracy, at least in theory, we have some input into our government. It often doesn't work very well, but there are at least mechanisms for grievance and complaint and the possibility of change. With private companies that offer supposedly free services, we have zero input.

So we end up with companies like Twitter, Facebook and Google able to profit off our personal information or censor millions of people at a government's behest. The consumer - the citizen - has no control at all. You have, in in essence, corporate dictatorships.

It's quite scary, or at least it should be. I'm sure many people who use free internet services are oblivious to the dangers, because they're taught to be good consumers, not watchful citizens.

And those of us who are watchful citizens generally feel we have no choice. If we want to participate in society, we need the internet, we need social media, we need the search engine. So we give up. I'm extremely skeptical that things like "Twitter blackouts" can have a real effect on this issue.

A while back, I wrote about Eben Moglen's Freedom Box, a simple device that would decentralize internet use. That wouldn't help us with Google and Twitter, but it would be a start.

For my own blog, I could go back to using my custom domain. I still own wmtc.ca; it redirects here. Using a custom domain with Blogger was problematic, and I eventually gave up and went with the redirect, but that was a while back. Maybe I'll try again. Which of course doesn't address any of the most important problems.

2 comments:

M@ said...

I just found out from another Canadian blogspot-hosted blog that the URL followed by /ncr ("no country redirect", apparently) ends up at the .com location. I wonder if you could redirect your page somehow so that it assumes /ncr...

laura k said...

Hmm. I will put it on my list of post-school things to investigate. Thanks.