I haven't read it yet, but it's interesting how the narcissism of the big tech messiahs influences even its critics.
No doubt Sergey Brin wants us to think of Google as an exceptional and revolutionary moment in communications. In some ways it is. But the internet is also just one additional way to access information and communicate with people. There's no good reason our approach to it should be completely different to our approach to previous comms and information systems.
So why do big tech's critics so often indulge the self-serving fiction that digital communications deserve special and different treatment?
- The bizarre (admittedly playful) piece on PM today about whether 'flat earth' evangelists on the web should be policed by fact-checkers hunting out online untruths. When I worked at a Waterstones, I was amazed by the amount of 'mind body and spirit' pap that got sold. But hardly anyone would propose, on national radio or elsewhere, that booksellers or librarians have a duty to refrain from stocking titles that might expose the public to (what they believe to be) untruths. Why is the web different?
- The EU law 'right to be forgotten' online is currently before the ECJ. The process of removing search engine links to stories, but not the stories themselves, was likened by one legal commentator to leaving the contents of a book untouched, but removing someone's name from the index. Which only made it seem all the more anomalous – hardly anyone would agree to such court-ordered tampering with books, unless for the usual legal reasons (libel, official secrets etc.). Why is the web different?
- The GDPR, together with the electronic privacy regulations, impose stricter privacy limitations on sending out marketing emails than they do on sending marketing letters to our homes. It's easy to see why regulators think of electronic comms as a more pressing mischief – but how many people think of their email inbox as a more private, protected space than their own home?
The most egregious example, to add a fourth, is Germany's Network Enforcement Act. It purports to restrict the big online platforms by making them responsible for what users post, and in the process makes them vastly more powerful – a huge number of decisions about lawful freedom of expression are now made by, guess who, the big online platforms.
It would be preferable if the regulators did what regulators are supposed to do when faced with innovative technology – curb its excesses, and domesticate it. Instead they panic and emphasise the disruptiveness of innovators who more often than not aspire to be disruptive. That's not the check and balance they are supposed to be applying.