Web 2.0, Imperialism, and Nation Building

I couldn’t help but pause over a recent headline I came across in my RSS reader, and while I can’t find the original post I scanned yesterday, a quick search brought this one up first from startuparabia, “Google, AT&T, Automattic and Twitter Executives Visit Iraq.” And they link their sources as Tech Generation Daily and Reuters. The TG Daily blurb reads like this:

Washington, D.C. – Bet you didn’t think of Google, YouTube, AT&T and Twitter as humanitarian campaigners, tirelessly fighting corruption and helping to build a more accountable society. But this week, executives from the companies, along with other high-tech firms, are visiting Iraq in a trip organised by the US State Department. The idea, said spokesman Robert Wood, is for them to offer “ideas on how new technologies can be used to build local capacity, foster greater transparency and accountability, build upon anti-corruption efforts, promote critical thinking in the classroom, scale-up civil society, and further empower local entities and individuals by providing the tools for network building.”

I don’t know about you, but the idea of Web 2.0 executives going into Iraq after a pretty blatant imperial occupation to rebuild the nation with these tools of liberation and control is not necessarily heart-warming or humanitarian in my mind.  In suggests a new face of media, capital, and controlling the message, and I have to say that if Google were so humanitarian on premised on openness and the general good of society, than why the hell are they fighting the Internet Archive (which is the real deal) request for copyright indemnity? Why not help re-build this nation on terms of equity, access, and transparency? How does the US State Department feel about this issue?

Via Arstechnica:

Like Google Book Search, the Open Library’s collection consists of public-domain works, copyrighted books scanned with the permission of the rights-holder, and orphan works. It’s the orphan works that have the Internet Archive concerned. The terms of the settlement between Google and The Authors Guild indemnifies Google should the copyright holder for an orphan work turn up and sue the search giant for infringement. The Internet Archive wants this same protection.

“The Archive’s text archive would greatly benefit from the same limitation of potential copyright liability that the proposed settlement provides Google,” argues the Internet Alliance in a letter to Judge Chin. “Without such a limitation, the Archive would be unable to provide some of these same services due to the uncertain legal issues surrounding orphan books.”

Although the Internet Archive isn’t seeking to derail the settlement, which is supposed to be finalized in June, the parties involved have informed the group that they oppose its attempts to intervene in the case. The Archive promises to abide by the court’s May deadline for filing its objections, but believes strongly that it should be allowed to intervene as an affected party so as not to be put at a competitive disadvantage.

Nation-building always starts at home, and erecting a culture built in the image of an executive Web 2.0 is frightening in many ways, we are not free! And the consolidation of power, communication, and copyright into the image and hands of a few must be resisted.

Update:
And now, thanks to the genius of Infocult, we have a way to impressionistically represent such relationships with “Disturbing Strokes” 🙂

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13 Responses to Web 2.0, Imperialism, and Nation Building

  1. Mike Caulfield says:

    This is the real deal. Not everything can be decentralized and grassroots. We *need* archive.org — or something like it — we need infrastructure not run by markets — or individuals.

    There’s an argument for non-intervention of government or foundation work in these markets — that such intervention will “crowd out” private investment.

    Things like this shows that things are actually running the other way — that Google is crowding out valuable philanthropic and public initiatives.

    That’s unspeakably bad. Archive.org happens to be the only place one can see the Bush Administration’s previous White House web page. They archived that not because it seemed a good ad generator, but because that is part of their public mission.

    Google on the other hand? Well — there wasn’t a business model for that yet.

    Things which are common infrastructure need public support and commitment. I read yesterday that it costs about $6 per house for Comcast to double the capacity of a broadband wired neighborhood. $6, period, for all time, total cost. But instead we get a stimulus check, so that we can pay $120 to $500 more a year for “Turbo” tier access that doubles our personal speed.

    How is that more efficient? Where does the difference in that check go? Does it leave behind useful things, or does it just buy another VP a second home in the Hamptons?

    And here’s the billion dollar question: what happens if Google starts to go under? Actually what happens *when* Google goes under? I live down the street from a library that while expanded and rebuilt houses books it bought in the 1800s. Still there, 200 years later. I drive over bridges built in the 1700s, even though each timber has likely been replaced dozens of times (we actually live next to a town with six covered bridges). My children play in parks created at the turn of the century.

    That’s infrastructure, real infrastructure. And believe me, for all the Google fanboyism out there, Google will not be curating these collections in 200 years. What happens when Google goes down?

  2. Said it before and I’ll say it again…”GIVE is the new OBEY!”..or put it more simply, same shit different administration. If your organization or business didn’t contribute to the campaign [regardless if it was due to lack of funds or differences in political ideology], you’re out of luck!

    Can’t wait till my kid is assigned to “volunteer” for one of the corporations backed by the Obama administration in the name of humanitarianism. It’s not unlike the soldiers in Iraq working for Haliburton while they were there.

    Hey…at least there’s no more illegal wire-tapp…oh, wait….damn.

    Slavery we can believe in, I guess…..

  3. Ted Major says:

    Corporations can’t engage in humanitarianism. A humanitarian is a person who promotes human welfare. Despite the legal fiction to the contrary, corporations are not persons. Moreover, by law the primary duty of corporate officers is to increase shareholder value. It’s a fiduciary duty, and officers and directors can be sued by the shareholders if they breach that duty.

    Google, AT&T et al. are in Iraq because they see an opportunity. Just as Google now has the opportunity to attain a monopoly over book searches. Why wouldn’t they try to attain and protect that monopoly? It’s a legally enforceable duty, and they’re obligated to advance the interests of their shareholders, not society or any other abstract idea.

  4. Oh…and what is the status of Paper Of Record?

  5. Ed Webb says:

    Imperialism always has a civilizing mission, always has missionaries, and they always march in step with the political and military power, even if formally unaffiliated.

    I loves me some critical thinking, and I loves me some Twitter, but I don’t think this will somehow fix Iraq.

  6. @ted major: Humanitarianism is just a semantic ruse, of course. It’s more important to show how those corporations are tied to the state. Google gave $790,564 to the Obama campaign, AT&T contributed to those who supported telco immunity, etc, etc, etc. This is simply the beginning of payback time.

    The public sector has no place in the market, and this is just one example.

  7. Peter — I think that oversimplifies things. Google of course gave nothing to Obama, although Google’s employees gave an awful lot.

    Senate and House elections are generally a little more reliant on contributors, because they are out of the public eye, as sad as it is, and no one can make sense of their voting record. So the campaing comes down to paid airtime.

    Obama, on the other hand, is not going to alter course on a public issue of note b/c Google employees gave him one tenth of a percent of his expenditures.

    The problem with the Presidency is much more simple and depressing: it’s mindshare. It the gravitational pull of the “Very Serious People” in foreign policy, or the “Very Sexy People” in business start-up and so forth, and the fact that this is the generative framework for a range of options.

    There’s actually a lot that Web 2.0 can do for Iraq right now, just as there’s a lot we could be doing in our own government. Govtrack.us, the Sunlight Foundation stuff, and even Open Secrets, where I assume you pulled the Google number from, have been very effective in getting out the story on certain legislation. The question ends up being do we really need those smart people at google to do it? And the answer historically is no.

    But what you don’t see, because there is no sex appeal to it, is Obama bringing the guy who wrote Govtrack over there — b/c he did in his free time and made nothing on it. And that’s just dirty fucking hippie to both the Obama administration and the Iraqis.

    What we have to do is change that perception, that all the smart people are at Google, and that we know that because they make tins of money, and the tax system should let them all keep it because they are so much smarter than all of us. But there’s a cognitive dissonance, because to do that we must first face how inequitable our system is. Until then you’ll only find the Google-elite on missions like that, and not dirty fucking hippies from the greater web.

    But *that’s* where your issue is, at the presidential level. At the Senate and House levels, as I say, there’s a different dynamic.

  8. petenaegele says:

    @Mike Caulfield. Google gave NOTHING to Obama? Wow…did you read that on wikipedia?

    Through all of what you said, you supported my final statement: the public sector has no place in the market, and this is another example. If you can provide empirical evidence otherwise, please do.

    But, please don’t tell me where “my issue is”, that’s dismissive in tone and offensive in content. I will not participate in argument by insinuation.

  9. “But *that’s* where your issue is, ” is a common expression equivalent to “that’s where the issue is” but sorry you took it differently.

    And no, corporations cannot give directly to campaigns. The context of the numbers you quote are the aggregated donations of all Google employees. That’s a significant difference from “Google” giving the money, but an important one if you are conceiving of this primarily as payback for donations. It makes it a lot more complex.

    And as far as the snark, I’m sure there is probably an article on Wikipedia that can explain to you how campaign finance law works. Or maybe we could just cut the snark?

  10. petenaegele says:

    This is hilarious…..if I want homer simpson quotes, I’ll go to wikipedia. Sorry about the snark, but I’m so tired of Google bashing when the state is just as much involved.

    yes, corporations as entities cannot give money to campaigns, but their political action committees CAN. They leverage their NAME to solicit contributions. The money was not given in the name of the individual contributors, but in the name of Google.

    So, yes….Google did give money to the Obama campaign in their name as the result of their PAC soliciting contributions on their behalf. Spin it however you want, the money was solicited and given in Google’s name.

    Now, who was appointed the “director of citizen participation”? Google exec Katie Jacobs Stanton. Who stood elbow to elbow with the country’s financial team at the first presidential press conference? Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

    Sorry, but that’s the private sector in the free market and vice-versa. Regardless of who else is on this mission, those who generate money for the state will be given priority over those who don’t.

    As far as hippies go, you might want to talk to Woz and Jobs about that. They succeeded in a free market, not because of special government programs forcing people to buy their product [even though Jobs is more like BlackBoard than Desire2Learn].

    Let Google be Google…it’s a business. If you don’t like what they do, don’t use them and don’t invest in them. If they lied to you, sue them, if your legal representation never understood what they were up to, take it up with them.

    In any case, NEVER put them in national and international positions of power.

  11. The initial number you quoted ($790,564) was the aggregated individual contributions of Google employees to Obama.

    There is a Google PAC, but it is involved primarily in Senate and House elections — mostly to individual House and Senate races, with a chunk to the DNC for support of broad support:

    http://www.opensecrets.org/pacs/pacgot.php?cmte=C00428623&cycle=2008

    But if you read my original post is the point:

    Senate and House elections are generally a little more reliant on contributors, because they are out of the public eye, as sad as it is, and no one can make sense of their voting record. So the campaing comes down to paid airtime.

    Obama, on the other hand, is not going to alter course on a public issue of note b/c Google employees gave him one tenth of a percent of his expenditures.

    I’m sympathetic to claims a House or Senate member has been partially bought. That’s where the contributions seem to have a big impact (and if my reading of Google PAC donations is correct, that is where they focus their effort).

    The dynamic of why Presidents veer toward corporations are more complex. And I’m just saying if we want to alter that it helps to understand why.

    I am glad for an alternate reading of the Google PAC (with links, please). I may have missed something. I don’t claim to be an expert on what Google in particular has done. But I have followed how telcos have exerted influence in the past, and found a distinction in terms of Presidential vs. Legislative elections, and I think using the same analysis is reductive.

    All these issues do come down, eventually, to what sort of action to use. In the progressive blogosphere we have tried to fight the legislative influence of people like telcos by raising money to take down blue dog democrats that vote for wiretapping and are propped up by telco money — because there the idea is corporate money is exerting an influence that we can counter.

    At the presidential level I don’t see that tactic working, because the dynamics are different.

  12. petenaegele says:

    I have never seen it in writing, nor did I say, that the contributions to the campaign came ONLY from Google employees. OpenSecret’s page notes that the corporation didn’t give the money themselves, but does not provide a breakdown of sources of money, which was my point. Google leveraged their name [via employees, PAC’s, etc] to generate money for the campaign [#5 in the top 10].

    Why do presidents veer towards corporations? More often than not, they have some direct or indirect investment of them, like Haliburton and Dick Cheney. Now, why would the State Department put Google in a position to make money off of rebuilding Iraq, why would Obama appoint a Google exec to an [as of yet] undefined position, and why would Google’s CEO be featured in the premier of Obama’s financial team? I think it’s primarily monetarily driven and secondarily image driven.

    Of the top 5 campaign contributors, only Microsoft and Google are in IT. Both want a piece of the pie, but Google has a better public image.

    I don’t think anything can really happen until the economic system actually collapses in on itself. This has been slowed, but not stopped. It has happened every 20 years or so since the depression and has gotten worse each time, thanks to faulty “cures”.

    The problem is that people think things have changed, when in truth, they haven’t at all.

  13. Ted Major says:

    Peter–

    Sorry if I seemed to be google bashing–I was just bringing up the point that corporations act in their own best interests and not those of society, and have a legal duty to do so. The CEO of Bank of America is facing potential lawsuits from shareholders because after being pressured to conceal losses suffered by Merrill Lynch before that takeover (based on pressure by Paulsen et al at the Fed).*

    I like google, and you a lot of their services. They do cool things. But I don’t really trust them, either. The amount of information they’re collecting scares the crap out of me. As with anyone in a position of power, one should be skeptical.

    * And yes, I wholeheartedly agree, this is an example of why gov’t shouldn’t be mucking about in private affairs.

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