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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

yes, Google *is* being evil

A couple days ago I pointed to how Google and Verizon were huddled in an evil lair somewhere concocting ways to fuck over Internet users as well as Web site owners who aren’t transnational multibillion-dollar corporations, and the general consensus of the responses was that I was overreacting.

Yeah? Google’s own Public Policy Blog yesterday revealed details of what it’s been up to with Verizon.

Basically, what these corporations are admitting is this: Sure, the “wireline” Internet should remain open and free, but guess what, suckers? The “wireline” Internet is on its way out like the horse and buggy, and wireless is the wave of the 21st century, and we’re gonna do with the wireless world whatever the fuck we want. So enjoy your “Net neutral” antiquated wireline Internet, cuz we’re gonna be creating an awesome new wireless network for cool stuff like movies and games… and you’ll pay through the nose to use it, and it’ll make all us rich powerful bastards even more rich and more powerful, and you’ll just have to like it.

[W]e want the broadband infrastructure to be a platform for innovation. Therefore, our proposal would allow broadband providers to offer additional, differentiated online services, in addition to the Internet access and video services (such as Verizon’s FIOS TV) offered today. This means that broadband providers can work with other players to develop new services. It is too soon to predict how these new services will develop, but examples might include health care monitoring, the smart grid, advanced educational services, or new entertainment and gaming options. Our proposal also includes safeguards to ensure that such online services must be distinguishable from traditional broadband Internet access services and are not designed to circumvent the rules. The FCC would also monitor the development of these services to make sure they don’t interfere with the continued development of Internet access services.

Key phrase: additional, differentiated online services.

Google isn’t just being evil, it’s not even hiding it.

[W]e both recognize that wireless broadband is different from the traditional wireline world, in part because the mobile marketplace is more competitive and changing rapidly. In recognition of the still-nascent nature of the wireless broadband marketplace, under this proposal we would not now apply most of the wireline principles to wireless, except for the transparency requirement. In addition, the Government Accountability Office would be required to report to Congress annually on developments in the wireless broadband marketplace, and whether or not current policies are working to protect consumers.

Key phrase: We would not now apply most of the wireline principles to wireless. Including that pesky bugaboo that everyone’s bitching about, Net neutrality. Oh, but we’ll have transparency. That’s so that, as Adam Green at AlterNet explains it:

as Americans lose access to the free and open Internet, they can visibly watch it go away.

One commenter at Google’s Public Policy Blog sums it up:

If you can’t redefine the word “neutrality”, redefine the word “Internet” instead.

Did you notice how Google and Verizon think that “wireless broadband is different from the traditional wireline world”? That’s because American companies have not dedicated the resources to upgrade the “wireline” world the way the rest of the postindustrial planet has. (As in so many other areas — health care, education, life expectancy, etc — the U.S. is hopelessly left in the dust by the likes of Germany, Sweden, and South Korea when it comes to wired broadband speeds.)

Dan Gillmor at Salon explains why we’re right to fear this Google-Verizon team-up:

You should not trust Verizon or other carriers, or Google for that matter, to follow through in ways that are truly in the interest of the kind of open networks the nation needs. Throughout the conference call, we kept hearing references to the “public Internet” — an expression that leads inescapably to something else.

Verizon and other carriers have every incentive, based on their legacies, to push network upgrade investments into the parallel Internet, not the public one.

Bastards.



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  • JoshDM

    With that attitude, you’re never going to be asked to go to Verizon or Google movie screeners.

    Meanwhile, this.

  • zepto

    It makes me so angry that the money I pay for internet access is not going in any meaningful part towards updating the “wireline” infrastructure.

  • Once Steve Jobs (Motto: Be evil, as long as you look cool doing it) came along and demonstrated to the world that people will willingly pay for “apps” on their wireless-Internet smart phones that provide precisely the same functions and services that can be accessed through free Web sites, as well as paying through the nose for data access . . . well, it was open season. Now Verizon/Google are walking through that door, because they know that gullible consumers will follow.

    Reading this site lately has become both enlightening and depressing. Mind you, I’m not suggesting you change anything, MaryAnn. When the truth hurts, I’d rather take the pain than take refuge in a convenient distraction. CNN today will probably report on a cute dog and Lindsay Lohan’s tribulations in jail.

  • Right now, RIGHT THIS VERY MOMENT, the internet is the wild west for both the wired and the wireless versions. Comcast has proven that by sending forged packets that intentionally break all BitTorrent connections for their subscribers, regardless if those subscribers are using BitTorrent to download pirated movies or legal downloads of distributed software (like, for instance, the way linux distros are released now, or even larger Mircosoft software updates). The FCC told them, “No, you can distinguish between different services on the internet and give priority to some but not others,” and Comcast brought them to court and WON their case saying “Actually, you don’t have the authority to make me do anything.”

    This is the what’s going on now. This is reality at this moment.

    The policy that Google-Verizon have asked legislatures to turn into law is a STEP in the direction of a better internet. It doesn’t go all the way. I have no doubt that much of that is Verizon unwilling to give up freedom on its wireless infrastructure — which happens to be the largest in the country.

    But its a start. And it’s a start with the most important part of the internet. Yes, more and more people use the internet on their phones, which is wireless, but the bulk of internet traffic is still transmitted through wires. A server in Houston sends a file through a router in Austin, across lines in New Mexico, all the way across the United States to Boston, and then jumps onto a Verizon Wireless tower and gets to your phone. EVERYTHING except that last part, the jump onto wireless, is covered by the neutrality portions in the Google-Verizon policy.

    Then, yes, it becomes subject to agreements Verizon makes with companies. That SUCKS. But to jump onto these concessions and declare not only is the policy bollocks, but the people involved in it are demons…. that’s just ridiculous.

    We need some sort of legislation to protect us from Comcast. Someday down the line, we’ll probably need legislation to protect us from Verizon, but this policy admits that. It says the wireless internet is still being developed, standardized, and refined, that the shape it will take is not yet understood, so they don’t want to put chains on it yet. But someday, yes, it will be formalized enough that it will be necessary to protect us from people who exploit advantages in the infrastructure. When that day comes, will you decry attempts to lock that down because it doesn’t contain locks on whatever is next? The subspace-cranial-cookie network, or whatever.

    And don’t read too far in to differentiated services. They’re talking primarily about things like video on demand. A service companies like Time Warner provide across their own cable lines but doesn’t really interact with the internet much at all. The policy also calls for the FCC to monitor all differentiated services to make sure what is being provided doesn’t hinder the growth and development of the public internet.

    It’s *possible* that this also includes things like dedicated networks. Back in the late 90s early 2000s, there was a series of high-bandwidth (for the time) connections between select Universities in the US where traffic between them was an order of magnitude larger than the rest of the internet. This could be a differentiated service, where a minority group requires a specialized connection at a higher bandwidth low packet drop rate. The policy is then written so that networks like these aren’t suddenly illegal.

    For schools it’s may seem trivial, but something like this could be used between hospitals in the future, for virtualized surgeries. We WANT hospitals to have the ability to set something up like this, so that virtual surgery connections have very low fail rate connections across the internet so a doctor in Sydney doesn’t suddenly run into lag and a patient in Denver dies.

    This is the GOOD kind of prioritized internet. The type that leads to new innovation and improvements in the internet infrastructure. Google-Verizon was trying to protect the ability for these sorts of technologies to be developed. The way a clause like “no differentiated services, except by committee review” could turn a good idea into a 4 year long debate that the creators of that idea can’t afford or even get the time of the committee for.

    So, in the end, YES, the policy isn’t great. I wish it were better. It contains loopholes that can be exploited. It requires us to be vigilant in watching for those exploits.

    But it also allows for new, unexpected ideas to be implemented without interference. We need those ideas. The internet was built on them.

  • Incidentally, if you choose to believe Google only acts in it’s own best interest, consider this:

    Google primary method of making money is selling advertising on the internet. People buy ads that display on sites as large as NYT and as small as a community forum and Google serves those ads to those pages. Google in no way benefits from a internet that is not neutral. It completely changes the value of advertising on websites.

    If a collection of very large companies (say 50 or so) buy up most of the bandwidth leaving precious little to the smaller websites (that make up over 99% of the internet) all of a sudden Google’s advertising on those sites has dropped in value. Which means people aren’t clicking, which means sites paying for advertising aren’t getting more traffic, which means Google can’t charge them very much per-click anymore.

    Not to mention, if most of the internet is owned by a small group of people, they can act as one to squeeze Google out if they wanted. They can choose to no longer buy advertising from Google and then all of the fast-loading internet is devoid of Google advertising, which means all of the sites that have a high click-through ratio are using other agencies. That’s power and control that Google has now over an open internet that they would lose.

    Implying that ‘Google is Evil’ because of this policy is essentially saying “Google is acting against it’s own best financial interests just to be a dick.” Google is not an ISP, they don’t benefit from an internet that isn’t open. Everyone knows them for their search engine, but that’s not where their money is made (or most of it, anyway).

    If anything, I’d say Verizon probably wanted to take an even stronger position and Google had to talk them down to this point. I’d ALSO wager Google tried talking to other companies first and eventually went with Verizon because they were most willing to compromise.

  • TempestDash is talking sense here. Maybe Google is evil, I don’t know… But they sure aren’t stupid — all we’re seeing here in response to this turn of events is the knee-jerk, mindless reactionism that is so prevalent these days.

    Destroying the current model of the internet would destroy Google, plain and simple.

  • TD does make an eloquent case, which causes me to think that I need to explore the situation further. But one point, made by TD and summed up by Newbs, seems a bit simplistic:

    Destroying the current model of the internet would destroy Google, plain and simple.

    That position implies that Google can’t think far enough ahead to anticipate and develop a plan to exploit the business opportunities of other models of the Internet. Whatever else Google may be, they are nothing if not forward-thinking.

  • MaryAnn

    knee-jerk, mindless reactionism that is so prevalent these days.

    Because enormous corporations do *not* have a track record of doing what’s best for their shareholders and for their bottom line, even if that is completely the opposite of what is good for consumers, the planet, and the economy overall?

    I’m sorry, but I will *not* give Google or Verizon the benefit of the doubt here. They have not earned it.

  • That position implies that Google can’t think far enough ahead to anticipate and develop a plan to exploit the business opportunities of other models of the Internet. Whatever else Google may be, they are nothing if not forward-thinking.

    This is true. I admit that, behind the most tightly closed doors there may be an agreement between Verizon and Google that, if Google helps them avoid neutrality on the wireless internet, Verizon will give them kickbacks on scale so large it dwarfs the losses from ad revenue. Or possibly they’re considering buying up part of Sprint or T-Mobile and entering the ISP game, they certainly have the wealth to make radical moves.

    But…

    I’m sorry, but I will *not* give Google or Verizon the benefit of the doubt here. They have not earned it.

    I’m just not sure where all the negative opinion of Google comes from.

    I admit to Verizon being assholes. I have hated them as my wireless carrier for 10 years but have begrudgingly accepted them since they have coverage in areas I need it (such as between mountains in upstate new york on Rt.17, where I first found myself stranded at night). Verizon has also demonstrated surprisingly anti-consumer behavior regarding nickle and diming their customers for features built into their phones (such as bluetooth, a service they used to charge customers to unlock).

    But Google… I just don’t get it. Yes, they’ve made some blunders over the years as far as predicting what technologies were going to launch. And it’s unnerving that they created a lobbyist group (though I’ve yet to hear anything nasty they’ve advocated for) and a political fund. But they shower gifts on their employees while other companies cut services. They tried to bring the internet to China, first under their draconian censorship and then when it was clear China wasn’t playing nice by blatantly defying that censorship. They invest randomly on various green technologies, just to see how they work and encourage others to use them. They give away high quality internet applications for free!

    Almost all of the hate I find on the internet towards Google boils down to ONE thing: fear. Google is so large and has access to so much information, everyone seems terrified that “when Google turns on you” we’ll all be screwed. What reason do we have to believe they’ll turn on us, other than they could?

    The governing mentality seems to be this: “Every other company is evil, and Google is a company, therefore it is evil and merely hiding it’s colors.”

    The worst thing I’ve heard about Google is news I saw today on Engadget about them contemplating more targeted advertising by using your user data to determine preferences. (http://www.engadget.com/2010/08/10/wsj-google-agonizing-over-user-privacy-vision-document-sug/)

    As much as I believe that this policy is in the greater good, if you hate it because of Verizon, I at least understand more than if you hate it because of Google.

  • MaryAnn:

    I’m sorry, but I will *not* give Google or Verizon the benefit of the doubt here. They have not earned it.

    This is definitely true — I would never argue that they deserve the benefit of the doubt. What I don’t like is that every single one of the dozens of articles I’ve read about this is full of fear-mongering speculation about what “could” go wrong “if” Google does something “evil”. There’s little hard evidence, especially in the literature provided by Google and Verizon, that anything evil is going on. It’s all, every bit of reaction I’ve seen (including the quotes you’ve posted in this article) complete speculation. It reads like a Sean Hannity transcript.

    From what I can tell (and I’m certainly no expert), it’s more like Google versus Verizon than Google & Verizon, where Google is trying to ensure the FCC has jurisdiction over the Internet and Verizon is trying to make sure they have control over their bandwidth. I tried to read through the agreement with a critical eye, but I just don’t see the things the doomsayers are predicting. It’s all hit-whoring.

    For my part, this has nothing to do with trusting Google, and everything to do with NOT trusting the overreactivist internet. In short, the reaction to this announcement feels less like rational criticism and more like “keep that gubment out of healthcare, and don’t take away my medicaid!”

  • Heh, overreactivist. That is an awesome word, if I do say so myself. :D

  • CB

    What I don’t like is that every single one of the dozens of articles I’ve read about this is full of fear-mongering speculation about what “could” go wrong “if” Google does something “evil”.

    It’s not about Google doing something specifically evil. It’s about Verizon doing evil, and Google allowing it.

    Let me explain what’s not speculation and how this announcement fits in:

    * Verizon is a vocal opponent of Net Neutrality. They stand to benefit from non-neutral policies, as in make billions of dollars by differentiating traffic based on source.

    * Google is a vocal proponent of Net Neutrality. They would be a primary target for anyone seeking to charge content providers for preferred access to subscribers, i.e. extortion.

    * The “wireline” internet consists of many (less than in the past, but still) companies who provide backbone access, and last-mile access, and data packets will necessarily cross several networks between source and destination. Any of these entities could try to extort Google, and a policy of Neutrality prevents having to make expensive deals with all of them.

    * Verizon won the majority of the wireless spectrum in the FCC auction, and will be the dominant player in the wireless internet in the States. On the wireless internet, only one deal needs to be made.

    * Google just stated that they will continue pursuing Net Neutrality on the wired internet, and will not on the wireless internet.

    Now let’s talk about what used to be speculative, and how that’s changed:

    Previous to this announcement, what was speculative was whether or not Google was arguing for Net Neutrality out of principle, or out of pragmatism. Do they actually care if the Internet is free, or do they only care that they can provide their services without being extorted?

    Now it’s no longer speculation — Net Neutrality is not a core principle of a free-as-in-freedom Internet as far as Google is concerned. It’s just another pragmatic feature of how they do business, and when it is not necessary for them to do business, then it is not necessary at all.

    And lastly, let’s talk about why this is bad:

    Verizon is certainly going to “do evil” in a non-neutral environment, and Google is allowing it. That is, as far as I’m concerned, being evil. I mean technically their motto is “do no evil”, but I think evil-through-inaction counts.

    Or is the concept that Verizon doesn’t care about Net Neutrality and will happily tier the wireless internet to their own advantage wild speculation?

    I really don’t think it is, and that’s all that’s required for this agreement to be very bad news.

  • Google is so large and has access to so much information, everyone seems terrified that “when Google turns on you” we’ll all be screwed. What reason do we have to believe they’ll turn on us, other than they could?

    The governing mentality seems to be this: “Every other company is evil, and Google is a company, therefore it is evil and merely hiding it’s colors.”

    I think the point is that we have to be vigilant and demand (effective) regulations that ensure fairness, so that we don’t have to rely on companies to be benevolent and police themselves. What guarantee do we have that Google’s apparently benign corporate culture/philosophy won’t change? Same thing in politics: It’s generally a bad idea to have one person or one small group of people have access to overwhelming power without any checks and balances, no matter how benevolent the current holder of power appears to be.

    And if you’ve followed the Google Book Search Settlement Agreement, you’d see that Google’s projects aren’t always universally praised; Ursula K. Le Guin resigned from the Authors’ Guild over this settlement. Google isn’t a saint; whatever its intentions, the consequences of its actions are a mixed bag, and certainly not immune from criticism.

    That said, I also think that TempestDash makes a good point, and that in our fervor for a fair regulatory structure we don’t stifle much-needed innovation in the process.

  • CB

    That said, I also think that TempestDash makes a good point, and that in our fervor for a fair regulatory structure we don’t stifle much-needed innovation in the process.

    Any “innovation” that requires that we abandon the neutrality principle is innovation that we don’t want.

    Google observes that the wireless internet is different than the wired internet, and this is true. It is not different in such a way that is relevant to net neutrality.

  • Google isn’t a saint; whatever its intentions, the consequences of its actions are a mixed bag, and certainly not immune from criticism.

    I certainly have no issues with this statement. No company is beyond reproach and the only way anything ever gets better is for people to critique. I don’t believe Google is a ‘saint’ or perfect in any way.

    I do believe that they’ve banked heavily on the image they’ve crafted over the years, however, and find it hard to believe they’d so blatantly compromise that image unless there was a major payoff coming. Which, I’ve admitted, is technically possible but I haven’t seen any evidence of it yet.

    I don’t claim nobody hates Google, since there are a lot of people who do. That Google Books dilemma you mentioned certainly created a bunch of people that hated Google. Was it because Google was acting evil? I think Google had a good idea, which is to create a searchable database of all published books. But they took a very bad way of implementing it which resulted in legal action. Generally speaking, it was a stupid thing to do. I’m sure someone realized there might be a copyright issue, but they chose to go ahead anyway. That’s pretty arrogant and maybe a sign Google thinks a little too highly of themselves.

    Now it’s no longer speculation — Net Neutrality is not a core principle of a free-as-in-freedom Internet as far as Google is concerned. It’s just another pragmatic feature of how they do business, and when it is not necessary for them to do business, then it is not necessary at all.

    I still don’t see how this is now “no longer speculation” from the announced policy. The policy is a proposed bit of legislation. It does not announce what Google’s ethics are in this situation. It represents the best compromise between Google and Verizon when it comes to Net Neutrality. It’s impossible to tell which parts were Google-driven and which were Verizon-driven. Anything you’re assuming about Google’s point of view is merely speculation.

    As I said before, Neutrality benefits Google in the long run. It’s against their best interests to be indifferent about it.

    Verizon is certainly going to “do evil” in a non-neutral environment, and Google is allowing it.

    Verizon has every right at this very moment to do evil on their non-neutral network. Since there are no regulatory bodies controlling content on their wireless network, they have absolute freedom and control. Why haven’t hey started already?

    Actually, explain to me this: Why would they wait until AFTER asking for a policy that requires Verizon to be transparent about the way they manage that network to BEGIN prioritizing traffic?

    Everyone is acting like this policy is somehow making the internet MORE exposed. It can’t get any more exposed than it is right now! The policy that Verizon and Google proposed says the restrictions placed on the wired network don’t apply to the wireless EXCEPT FOR the transparency requirement. It’s crazy to think that Verizon is actually advocating for transparency at the same time they’re ramping up to introduce changes that will compromise the quality of the internet. Wouldn’t they be better served is nobody could see what they were doing?

    That Transparency requirement HAD to come from Google, because it makes absolutely no sense from Verizon. Why would Google not budge on the transparency requirement but allow the other regulations to eventually be talked down?

    My speculation is they’re hoping competition will win the battle their discussions with Verizon couldn’t. Unlike in the wired arena, where most people have a very limited selection of ISPs (typically your cable provider, or possibly DSL if you live close enough to a substation and don’t mind the lower bandwidth) the wireless market has at least FOUR strong players, all offering comparable services and have a long history of not working well together.

    If everyone has to be transparent about their network managing techniques, consumers can actually compare and contrast and, if neutrality really does matter to consumers, they can choose the network that offers the most neutral service.

    I said it above, but I recognize this isn’t perfect. All I’m saying is that it’s not as bad as everyone says it is, and it’s not definitively a sign that “Google is evil.” If the choices are compromise on a few key points or argue forever and lose on ALL points, I don’t think it’s evil to take the compromise. Especially since this is not the only time this topic will be debated. If this policy is enacted, it won’t be the last, there will be lots of opportunities to expand it or change it in the future. But it’s better than NOTHING, which is what we have right now.

  • Martin

    The federal government shouldt build a high speed national wireless internet infrastructure that covers every square inch of the United States and make it free for everyone to use.

    Then all phones calls and internet traffic would be permanently free to everyone at all times.

    This would be paid for from general taxation which would be far cheaper and more efficient than high cell phone charges and ISP subscriptions.

  • ss13

    Well one also have to see it this way: earlier, the last mile was the main cost factor. Now it isn’t, rather its the total bandwidth of what customers download. So the choice is going to be “Either you use a connection where most bandwith goes to companies which paid for it, and as compensation get some bandwidth for any other sites, or you can download whatever you want (Neutrally), but then YOU pay for each magabyte of traffic you generate, because that’s how it works for the provider’s costs.”
    The today flatrate model simply cannot persist in actual situation. And this is more true for wireless providers, because they generally have less bandwidth. Also, as mentioned before, there is bigger competition on wireless than on wired market, meaning customer choices have more leverage – here, the law “if you are not neutral, you have to say so” can very well mean “if you are not neutral, you have no customers left”.

    And third, RIGHT NOW there is no obligation to neutrality anywhere. If we can establish that at least wired Internet (which constitutes majority of traffic and is the only useful medium for many sites anyway) can be held neutral, methinks the wireless will follow at some point.

  • Left_Wing_Fox

    ss13: That’s a strawman.

    The issue is not bandwidth, it’s rent-seeking.

    Right now, everyone pays for bandwidth: Home users pay their ISP for faster internet and bigger download amounts, content providers pay their hosting companies based on the server load. That’s fine, and no-one is objecting to it. That’s not what Net Neutrality is about.

    The concern is that now ISPs will insert themselves between content providers and their customers like a toll booth. It allows verizon to coerce content providers to use their own service, or pay a fee, to reach Verizon’s customers without restriction. It applies monopoly pressure to restrict the choices of end users and hosting companies through preferential network access, and encourages the artificial limitation of existing bandwidth rater than investing in the internet infrastructure. It’s in the interest of the corporations to charge more fr limited resources, than to spend money and make the resources more available (and therefore cheaper) for everyone to use.

  • MaryAnn

    Verizon has every right at this very moment to do evil on their non-neutral network.

    Verizon does not have a “network.” Wired communication uses the taxpayer-subsidized telecommunications infrastructure, and wireless communication utilizes the public resource of the airwaves.

    Enforcing Net neutrality will not stifle innovation. Losing Net neutrality will just hand over more public resources to corporations to do with as they see fit. We’ve already seen how well that went with the broadcast TV networks, who simply ignore the public good with how they use the public airwaves.

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