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Monday, December 03, 2012

Doth Google protest too much?


Vinton Cerf, one of the so-called ‘fathers of the internet’, senior VP and ‘Chief Internet Evangelist’ at Google, has written this article warning humanity at large about what he sees as a concerted effort by governments around the world to stop the net being free and open to all (he has also posted on the same subject on Google’s official blog). Now about this I am in two minds, not least because it seems to me to be yet another attempt (and by someone representing a very powerful private profit-making organization with its own axe to grind) to portray governments (and more generally, all forms of authority) as fundamentally hostile to human freedom and welfare.

When I think of all the enormous benefits that the internet has brought to mankind in just a little over two decades – not only all the new jobs and businesses it has spawned or enabled to grow big but miracles like email and Wikipedia and YouTube and blogging and online banking and ticketing etc etc – I agree almost without reservation (were it not for the ‘copy-paste’ culture it has encouraged among all sorts of people from schoolkids to post-doc scholars) that the internet has been a Good Thing on a gigantic scale, and I would most certainly like to see it keep growing and developing in myriad hitherto undreamed-of ways. However, when I hear of fears that governments are secretly hatching dark plans to hobble and enslave it, I cannot help wondering, for a variety of reasons.

Firstly, despite Mr. Cerf’s pretensions to historical wisdom (he is a techie, after all, however rich and famous), the fact remains that governments have neither always determinedly fought against progress nor generally succeeded – at least, not for long. To take just two examples from a vast range of choices available to any educated person, slavery could never have been abolished, nor measures of public hygiene for the masses (including everything from networks of regularly cleaned underground sewers to vaccination) would ever have been possible without large scale government support and involvement anywhere on earth: and no one in his right mind will argue that these were not major progressive steps in human development. Mr. Cerf writes correctly in the last lines that ‘within decades of Gutenberg’s creation, princes and priests moved to restrict the right to print books’; what he omits to mention is that they failed despite their best attempts, and the printed word managed to spread fast and wide enough to bring about events as momentous as the Reformation and the Enlightenment. Governments are nowhere and never all powerful; resolute people with clear aims and visions will find ways out of their muzzles and dragnets. Scare mongering of this sort, therefore, might be in the nature of dishonest hyperbole, and we should stop to wonder why it is being done, whose interest is being served in reality.

Mr. Cerf has also been careless enough to let slip his opinion that the inter-governmental organization called the ITU is not wholly a Bad Thing, since it has greatly helped the net to multiply quickly, smoothly and seamlessly through global cooperation; only, his gripe is that governments alone have a right to vote in it; ‘engineers, companies, and people that (sic) build and use it have no vote’. He may have a point there (though it is also true that engineers and companies are not traditionally asked to vote on the need to build bridges and cities, either – that kind of decision making has always been the preserve of governments, for the simple reason that nobody and nothing else has been found to represent the ‘general public interest’ better than governments do, all except the very worst of them anyway). So it may be okay to demand that the deliberations of this meeting being held today at Dubai be made public knowledge, and that governments do not take draconian measures without informing and consulting their respective peoples, but it is absurd to say that governments should not hold such meetings at all!

Then there is this matter of there being so many governments which block the services of Google and other companies either temporarily or permanently, and that being portrayed as a very Bad Thing. Sign the petition at once, don’t stop to think, the article and the blogpost are telling us with shrill urgency, otherwise the sky is going to fall on your head. It is at such times, when howling mobs instigated by wily and ruthless manipulators with hidden agendas call for bringing down all kinds of established standards, norms, conventions and institutions (the trials of Socrates and Joan of Arc, and the effect of Mark Antony’s speech at Julius Caesar’s funeral are telling cases in point) that people who value reason, balance and fairness need to hold on most tightly to their sanity and their own right of judgment, whether they are private individuals or people in positions of public power. Yes, okay, many governments do monitor, filter and even ban many kinds of content – so what? Doesn’t every sensible parent do it with their child’s range of internet access (and don’t give me the corny crap about adults being in general more mature and knowing what is good for them – remember that most adults would rather watch dancing girls or go to kitty parties than attend learned seminars, remember Auden’s apocryphal ‘unknown citizen’, who ‘held the proper opinions for the time of year/ when there was peace, he was for peace, when there was war, he went’; remember the inimitable Humphrey Appleby in Yes Minister demonstrating with panache how ‘public opinion’ can be manufactured at will by any sufficiently cunning and powerful authority…)? Doesn’t Google do it itself (how many outside posts criticizing their policies have they put up on their own blog)? I know a little bit about my own country, and the kind of things our government has occasionally banned or blocked – personal abuse of high level politicians, for example, and vicious and completely irrational hate mongering websites vilifying certain religious communities, designed to raise tempers and provoke barbaric riots – have been found to be okay by most level-headed citizens; occasions when governments went too far have been quickly remedied (as with the recent Facebook incidents in Maharashtra and West Bengal), so where is the terrible urgency to remove all powers of supervision and censorship from the hands of governments?

As for the worry that several regimes want a ban on anonymous posts, I happen to hold very strong views in favour of it, from my own experience on the net, especially with blogging. Somebody on my  blog has sought to justify it on the grounds that a lot of people like to post anonymously – I hope I don’t have to belabour the point that that is one of the stupidest arguments in favour of doing or not doing something. My experience is that only ignorant and unreasonable people who want to abuse me out of pure personal spite (and know that very well themselves, and are therefore scared to expose themselves to the same kind of abuse!) as a rule feel the need to send anonymous comments to my blog: no friend needs it, and no civilized critic does, either. Blogger itself (a tool owned by Google) currently offers a facility to block anonymous comments, and I have availed myself of it after enduring for many years the ‘comments’ of vulgar cowards whose real problem was a lack of education coupled with envy and having very little work to do. No man who has a real opinion and courage of conviction, I shall maintain this to my dying day, will be afraid to put his name to it – Luther wasn’t and Gandhi wasn’t, I myself have never felt the need for it, and the ‘opinions’ of the faceless crowd should never be given an overblown importance, otherwise there is the end of competent government and decent social life. Besides, why doesn’t a writer who insists on the importance of ‘transparency’ to the net fail to notice the basic contradiction with the position that anonymous posting/commenting is okay? You can’t have your cake and eat it too, Mr. Cerf!

Concerning the fear that governments are planning to impose some kind of toll on content providers and other net users for reaching out to audiences beyond borders, well, what is so novel or wrong or traumatizing about the idea? Governments need money to make vast outlays on providing many kinds of services to people which the latter may imagine to be free – piped and chlorinated water to many homes in India, for example – and so they try to impose tolls and taxes. People speaking for vast corporates like Google are usually committed to the ideology of the ‘free’ market when it suits them (where, ironically, all things should be priced for them to be produced and distributed ‘efficiently’); when it doesn’t, they scream blue murder. People pay computer hardware- and software manufacturers and internet service providers for accessing the internet, so why shouldn’t they also pay a little to governments which protect them (as with anti-cyber crime laws)? The fact that most net users have gotten used to accessing virtually everything on the net for free (except porn – for which millions pay gladly, a very telling point) is not an argument to justify that this should go on forever, else the net is doomed. Speaking for myself, I am quite willing to pay a toll for net usage of the kind which I find useful, so long as it is small and fair, in the sense that I willingly pay tolls for the use of the national highways, but find it objectionable that someone driving a small hatchback is required to pay as much as someone driving a top of the line BMW.

And finally, look at the cartoon on top of the article. One banner says ‘Fear me, I am free’.Talk about mindlessness having a field day. These are the same people who want to be free of the fear of government. I don’t want to rub it in, but what kind of ugly-minded pinhead can say that since everybody has a right to be free, someone needs to fear him so that he can be free of fear? For the reader who finds that flying over his head, here’s something simpler to think about: if you found an alligator or a tiger on the road holding up a sign like that, wouldn’t you ring at once for someone to come rushing and put the beast in a cage? Remember, then, that humans can be far more annoying and dangerous than any dumb animal…

22 comments:

Rajdeep said...

Great article. I agree.

Two things:

1. A majority of mankind still has a long way to go through turbulent tribulations and pondering to discover the meaning of real freedom.

2. "I shall willingly pay a toll for net usage of the kind that I find valuable, so long as it is small and fair – in the sense that I willingly pay a toll for using the national highways, but find it objectionable that someone driving a small hatchback is obliged to pay the same toll as someone driving a top of the line BMW."
Nothing can be more correct than this!

Subhasis Graham Mukherjee said...

Since the top experts on these matters including the fathers of internet, Google top guns and technical brains from governments have put their heads into this, I am sure they have thought these issues through and know what they are talking about. From my very limited knowledge, there are several ways to bypass government blocking, censoring and banning of sites (How To Access Blocked / Bypass Blocked Websites) The blocking and banning works only for basic users who type in "http:// www.google.co.in" to get to Google India. If blocks and bans are more prevalent across nations of the world, then users would simply have to learn more sophisticated ways to bypass them and there would be sites coming up to make this easier. The internet is a massive network of information highways and super-highways- there's potentially hundreds of ways to get to point B from Point A, with several nodes in-between to detour and bypass road blocks. Similar ways could also potentially be used to bypass tolls. If a nation puts tolls on traffic in that country, then traffic could pretend to be from the same country once inside it's borders, or be anonymous. It's like changing the car plates on crossing the border to ones of the country entered. Eventually, the sites would simply be hosted in toll free places (sites are already hosted in other countries for a variety of reasons, mostly to bypass laws and restrictions)- much like the super rich keeping money in tax havens.

Debarshi Saha said...

Respected Sir,

Warm regards.Another very insightful article,unmasking the truth behind mass-hysteria once again.I agree with most of your points,Sir,while silently wishing that all steps taken by the ITU are with 'the best of intentions' and keeping the best interests of the Net in mind,as well as of all law-abiding cyberspace citizens.

However,I do have some doubts,which I shall enumerate below:

1)I strongly support the PIPA and SOPA act-for I believe,every artist should have copyright protection,as well as creative and intellectual security.But,the way in which this 'censorship' is being carried out,one suspects that it is done to benefit governments to isolate dissidents of public policy and suppress the opinion,as per their requirements.I think that the focus of the censorship should turn to the right areas.

2)I fear for the fate of public-licensed,open source software code.For years,dedicated Net developers have provided us wonderful open-source tools to work with.If censored by the act,most of them might become dissuaded and leave this arena of potential development.

3)Tailoring Web-traffic can only further stimulate most petty law-breakers to go full-scale,and avail of proxy servers,and masked IP's to circumvent the protocols.Cyber-crime may increase,if such is the case!That would be ironical indeed.

4)Finally,I believe the Net has grown by leaps and bounds due to the extraordinary freedom inherent in its nature.To curb it would be to deny the possibilities of future growth,and might even lead to a Net where vested corporate interests and political propaganda rule this domain.Users must be made more responsible,more mature to handle this nature of freedom,so that this sort of eventuality does not come to a pass.

Just as you say,Sir,stricter cyberspace laws need to be framed-and more importantly,they need to be implemented accordingly and efficiently by appropriate agencies.

With best wishes,
Debarshi.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Thanks, Rajdeep, Subhasis and Debarshi, for chipping in early with comments. Yes, there are certainly a lot of things to be thought out carefully - how easy it is to bypass blocking at present, for instance, and how paid services could discourage the production of all kinds of open-source software code. Debarshi, you didn't notice, I think, that Mr. Cerf has himself admitted that the ITU (an inter-governmental organization) has hugely helped to spread the net across the world, which is precisely why I am wondering about his sudden new suspicion and anger at what this agency is supposedly trying to do. Even the devil must be given his due, you know, and so far the ITU hasn't exactly been devilish anyway!

No one has yet made any observations on what I said about anonymous posting/commenting, nor about what I said in the last paragraph. So I am waiting...

Kaustav Som said...

Sir,
This post was a refreshing break from from reading various civil-right activists on the question of censorship of the internet. The general mood is that the government is leaving no stone unturned in restricting the freedom of expression.
Coming directly to the question of anonymity in the internet, it has to be pointed out that one of the important prerequisites of a modern democracy is the doctrine of secret ballot in electing ones representative. This is directly in consonance to the ideology of anonymity. All the championing democracies over the world has prescribed to this doctrine and has rejected the alternative of open ballot.
Secondly, is it only lack of courage due to which people resort to anonymity? The concept of using pseudonyms can also be traced to exercising ones anonymity. People like Lewis Caroll or Rabindranath Tagore were certainly not less courageous to use pseudonyms.
I am saying this while also keeping in mind the principle of accountability, under which everyone should be held accountable for their actions.
I believe that the idea anonymity is not all bad and any rigid restriction imposed against it should be challenged. In a highly technologically advanced world, internet is one of the few medium which permits one to exercise this anonymity on a large scale. On the other hand, a check on nuisance is always welcome.
I would like to hear more from you in this regard.
Regards,
Kaustav Som

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Dear Kaustav,

You deserve a very special thanks for giving me an opportunity to show that I never refuse to publish comments that are critical of what I have myself said, just so long as they are both reasonable as well as politely-worded. I wish some blockheads would get that, sooner or later...

I knew of the anonymous ballot argument of course, and also that someone or the other was bound to bring it up. Do reflect that that is allowed only in the case of elections; no judge or bureaucrat or minister would be allowed to make anonymous comments in meetings/court sessions/parliamentary deliberations etc etc. Also, voters are merely allowed to tick on a name of their choice or press a button: never to make even one-word comments, right? No voter can write a thousand word 'comment' full of irrelevancy, invective, lies and pure abuse. So are the two situations really the same? Say the president has given an hour-long speech with intricate details of his economic policy, and there come in thousands of anonymous comments merely saying 'The President is an ****ole', while not offering a single line of sensible criticism. Why should it be wrong to filter out such comments? Isn't that actually necessary so that sensible debate among civilized people may be carried out for the greater common good, instead of being drowned out by the howling of ugly-minded mobs? Let me know what you think.

As for authors writing under pseudonyms, that is another category altogether. So let's keep it for another day.

Best wishes.
Sir

Kaustav Som said...

Sir,
Thank you for the compliment: it still brigs the childish pleasure at being appreciated by a teacher.
I agree with what you have said but don't you think that we must also leave out some scope for the positive effects of anonymity, like what happened during the Jasmine Revolution?
Any further restriction imposed on anonymity by the government is not necessary when already there are enough safeguards against such nuisance, like the personal settings to a blog.
Regarding the issue of causing a hindrance to a healthy discussion, we have to make the effort of separating the muck from actual content and discourage any random, baseless or purely abusive behaviour. The process is long drawn but it is the only suitable long term solution.
Regards,
Kaustav Som

Subhasis Graham Mukherjee said...

I would agree with Suvro on the Anonymity issue. If one tries to think of all the possible cases and scenarios then the arguments against Anonymous posts become clearer. The first and strongest point in favour of any anonymous expression is freedom of expression without the fear of persecution. Let's think of the Political Cartoon case. The big deal of the case was the identity of the person- a professor of JU. He wouldn't have done that anonymously in the first place, wasn't sorry that he did so after all the hassles and openly declared that he would continue with such postings and emails and as himself. I am sure there are others who feel the same way. That act (of circulating the cartoon) and other expressions of strong, sensitive and controversial views and opinions only have the desired punch and bite if tagged with the full identity and profile of the person posting them. They wouldn't have liked their postings to get lost in the 'mob behaviour' and 'nuisance to be ignored' classifications that generally come with anonymous postings. Why would anyone writing anything worthwhile not tag their name and profile to it to make people read it and take it seriously? If they have inferiority complex, then their views and opinions are probably screwed anyways. Finally, if they are stupid and naive enough to think Anonymous really means anonymity and undetectable, then they would have to do something really serious and dangerous to find out about that one. Law enforcement would be knocking on their monitor in no time. Post 9/11, there's unprecedented levels of snooping and sniffing in US- a country that used to be and still tries to be the poster boy of freedom and democracy. Which also brings us to the levels of surveillance (almost complete coverage) in most countries, specially US post 9/11. What exactly does one mean by free nowadays? That character is right though, his freedom is really scary- that's why pretty much wherever he goes and whatever he does has to be on camera. Again, if he tries out find out how much freedom he really has, it might be a fearful experience for him.

Luis said...

Mr. Cerf writes correctly in the last lines that ‘within decades of Gutenberg’s creation, princes and priests moved to restrict the right to print books’; what he omits to mention is that they failed despite their best attempts, and the printed word managed to spread fast and wide...

Why did they fail? Because people like Mr. Cerf resisted. It is because the people, like those protesting now, did not allow the greater powers to succeed in their attempts to overtly control. Ironically, you appear to be dismissing the very process that you are celebrating. You decry protestations because you feel the process is inevitable, yet seem not to recognize that this is indeed the very same process.

Mr. Cerf has also been careless enough to let slip his opinion that the inter-governmental organization called the ITU is not wholly a Bad Thing ...
"Let slip"? By intentionally writing exactly that? Do you imagine that the paragraph was written by mistake? He began with the words, "Let us be clear." I don't think that these words preceded a lengthy Freudian slip.

Cerf is acknowledging a truth so as to demonstrate that he is not blinded to certain realities, that he is not one-sided in his evaluation. This does not mean that he is wrong in any respect, nor does it mean that because the ITU has done good things in the past that is always a pure force for good.

... it is absurd to say that governments should not hold such meetings at all.

Cerf was suggesting that "such meetings" should be open to all. Why is it absurd to suggest that discussions on treaties which affect all of us should not be held behind closed doors? Do you think it is better for governments and large corporations to shape policy on communications without all interested parties in attendance?

It is at such times, when howling mobs instigated by wily and ruthless manipulators with hidden agendas call for bringing down all kinds of established standards, norms, conventions and institutions ...

Wow. Vint Cerf is a "wily and ruthless manipulator" for suggesting that vital discussions of Internet policy be open to the public, instead of behind closed doors where multinational corporations and governments can decide on their own how to control the greatest boon to free speech in the history of mankind?

That's quite a statement.

What is happening now with the ITU is what happened 6 years ago in the U.S. with the telecoms and "network neutrality." The telecoms, flush with profits, want to expand them more. They already have sufficient revenue through charging for Internet access and use. They claim that big companies like Skype, Google, and Apple are streaming content "for free," despite charging both content provider and users in various ways. They claim that they want to build new infrastructure, but every time they are given freedom to charge more, they take the profits and welch on their promises. They say they require some incentive to build, but they already have all they need. All are excuses for a very stark motive: to make more money.

Cerf said that this kind of control will "raise costs and prices and interfere with the rapid and organic growth of the internet," not that the sky will fall; but the greatest tool for free speech will be turned in a direction contrary to its current nature.

How can a process that is not open lead to greater openness? How can a closed meeting between parties of governments and corporations, all too often known precisely for protecting their own interests, result in a better world for all? Why not throw those doors open? How is that bad?

Suvro Chatterjee said...

!

Vaishnavi said...

Dear Sir,

When I read Mr. Cerf's article I was inclined to agree with him but yours has made me stop and take stock. Everyone knows that Android has benefited enormously from Google's open source policy but it seems to me that Mr. Cerf might be mixing up two very different things. If the ITU seeks to censor the use of internet at large, it will have good reason to do so. Not every country is a North Korea or a Cuba nor is every body of government a Henry the VIII. How else does he think laws should be passed or major decisions taken if not by a legit body chosen by the people to handle such concerns?

Regards,
Vaishnavi

Suvro Chatterjee said...

The Secretary General of the ITU has just written on CNN too (and he has accommodated Cerf's article within his own - I wonder whether Google will have either the honesty or the guts to do as much on its own blog?). Read it here:

http://bit.ly/Vogxsf

There's one particular line in his article which tells me quite clearly why players like Google are so afraid. Let's see if you can find it!

This means I do hope you will read it very carefully - especially those whom I taught how to read - before dashing off a comment.

Debarshi Saha said...

Respected Sir,

Warm regards.I believe the line is:

"And many believe there should be a level playing field at national and international levels, to avoid abuse of power by dominant players."

I sincerely hope that distributed infrastructure development takes place equitably,and that all Internet transactions remain democratic,instead of slowly becoming monopolistic practices!

At the end,its the Net and its relevant users who shall benefit the most-with more resources,more infrastructure,and more affordability for everybody.

Best wishes,
Debarshi.

Nishant said...

Dear Sir,

One of the topics you have touched upon in this post is one I have had trouble with for a long time: censorship of any kind. On the one hand the government has the responsibility of maintaining peace in the country. This may entail some sort of censorship on certain things like the internet or sending messages or things like that (recall the recent incident that happened in Bangalore). The other extreme is a country like North Korea, where the people are so badly brain-washed that have no idea that a world beyond their country exists. I have seen some youtube documentaries about North Korea and they are scary to say the least. But sometimes, I feel (hypothetically speaking) that the government (or the ones in power) might have to hush things up and not let the truth out for fear of complete anarchy. Is it better to live in falsehood, but one that ensures peace? Or is truth more important even though we might risk complete breakdown of society? I am probably veering off completely. This is something I would like to hear your opinions about some day.

Vinton Cerf, as you mentioned might have something at stake for portraying the government as something nasty. Generally, big corporates here tend to favour a certain political party, which gives tax breaks to corporations, and tries to reduce intervention of any form (Laissez Faire?). But normal people here also tend to think that the government should not provide healthcare or take care of disabled or poor people ('That is what the churches are here for!'). They prefer private everything, prefer paying less taxes and want the Second Amendment to be upheld so that they can bear arms against the government if needed some day! But I think such thoughts occur to only those people who have never stepped outside their country. If they could see what governments in some other countries do or don't do, they would consider themselves lucky and think better of their government.

As to anonymity, Kaustav Som did raise a good point. However, your blog site, I believe, is your territory and people who want to get in and be heard should obey your rules. It's the same whether we sign up to work for a company, or check the 'Agree to terms and conditions' button and press 'Next' on some software, or enter a different country. If we have a problem following any of the rules, we better not get in.

Sometimes, when people talk about freedom and democracy here, I get a bit scared. Freedom comes with a big responsibility. They seem to think only of the freedom bit without thinking about the consequences bit. In any case 'freedom' is a very loose term. One has to define it to be able to say how free one really is. Nowadays, when we discuss things like 'freedom', we jest with comments like: 'This is 'Merika; I will buy a tank and a couple of shotguns.'

Sincerely
Nishant.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

In connection with your first query, Nishant, my views are very clear: whereas in principle I am strongly against censorship of any kind, so I'll not even ban Mein Kampf if I had the power to, I shall certainly put the lid on anything that can put large numbers of human lives at risk (as through riots): no book or movie is worth the ruin of thousands of lives, period. Remember, it is governments which have to take the responsibility for that sort of thing, not authors and other private intellectuals.

Every country has a lot of weirdness in its prevailing mindset. In America it is gross over-emphasis on individualism, and a pathological fear of anything that smells even vaguely of socialism. So while most civilized countries have made universal health insurance mandatory, Obama's few small and faltering steps towards it are being condemned by many as a sellout to leftist ideologues. And yes, I know all about the most mindless among them, who thing a gun or a tank can allow them to handle any kind of problem they might face in life. But then, they have vast numbers of fellow-travellers in this country, so who are we to point fingers? But for that tiny minority who like to think things deeply through, I cannot do better in this connection than to draw their attention to my earlier post here, titled 'Freedom and responsibility'. I think I have said all I am capable of saying there.

As for Kaustav's reference to the 'Jasmine Revolution', I shall withhold comment for now, only observing that it is still a story unfolding, like the 'anti-corruption' movement in India: just keep an eye on the papers.

Finally, I hope most of my readers have got it clearly by now why it is particularly giant corporates like Google that are most scared about the ITU meeting: they talk about the freedom of hundreds of millions of ordinary citizens being imperilled, whereas the truth, of course, is that they are desperately worried that their monopolistic and often grossly unfair business practices might come under international regulation. After all, just about everybody understands that Google's managers and shareholders care as much for the average Chinese citizen's right to free speech as George Bush jr. cared about the average Iraqi's right to life when he invaded: their real grouch is that the Chinese government favoured Baidu against them, and made business unprofitable for them on mainland China - and Google found that as big an insult to swallow as the British opium traders found the Chinese government's ban in the mid-19th century. Alas, China is currently too powerful to be invaded and taught a lesson! So they talk of the threat to democracy instead, and hope that millions of ignorant nitwits around the world would listen, believe and lend their unwitting support...

Thanks for backing me up on the anonymity question. My only grouch is that I seem to have little choice: either I allow trolls in, or I impose such restrictions that only really decent and informed people can comment, which means that hardly anybody can comment at all, the latter having become a seriously endangered sub-species!

Navin said...

Dear Sir,

I complete agree with you that since most of us anyway have an online profile and also have considerable power to harm others, it is after all not such a bad idea to do some policing. It would be very much in order, if a person is actually barred from putting in anonymous comments.

with best regards,
Navin

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Yes, I am glad that you see eye to eye with me on this, Navin. After all, who needs to post anonymously (or from behind a pseudonym) except a coward, a boor or someone just plain mindless? Whenever I ask this question, I am rewarded with a loud silence. That says all I want to know about people...

aranibanerjee said...

Sir,
The value of your post goes beyond what a certain serf or Cerf might have to say. It is in piquing at commonplace popular wisdom that the virtue of an agile mind is evident. If I get it right, your claim is against the travesty of laisses faire that corporates make. The conclusions are evident from what happened when the banks went bust not too many years ago.
We know for sure that Americans would want to stop someone like Assange and Indians would love to stop the abuse of politicians. However, it is also entirely possible that piracy of cinema, books, music and ideas get restricted.
The reason why Google is so scared is that it makes lots of money even when a filmmaker, a music artist or novelist doesn't. Every film piracy site leads to a dozen odd porn site and every free dictionary site leads you to jabong.com!
The cartoon is exactly like a south Delhi 'dude' sporting a Che Guevera tee. Fake. All of it.
Cheers for writing this post, Sir. I have long held that corporate corruption is light years ahead of government theft. The money that the Birlas have made by routinely declaring profit-making industries 'sick' is no where close to what a Bofors could have given a Gandhi.
The other cheer that you deserve is for identifying the red herrings in Cerf's post. Popular opinion is often prejudiced by logical fallacies and it takes courage to bust the balloons of popular angst. In a completely different vein, here is an Outlook article on the gang rape incident that you might find interesting:
http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?283463

aranibanerjee said...

Sir,

Excited by the drift of your post, I've been doing my own bit of reading on how corporations work to befuddle people and their governments.
Pearson Education, the publishing giant that I once worked for, is a key player in government policies on education. In the United States, George Bush once propagated a policy called 'No Child Left Behind'(NCLB), a policy that encourages US states to adopt syllabuses and teaching practices so that everyone becomes a 'topper'. Such dreams are usually sold by profiteering businessmen and insurance and share agents where they promise that everyone would become rich at the same time. While one cannot expect more out of a moron like Bush (an oil-rig owner), Obama has sold himself and the country to a crap called Common Core. It is much like CCE (Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation) that Mr Sibal promotes in India. However, Mr Sibal has the good sense to not sell out the evaluation scheme to a private service provider. While markets are flooded with textbooks stamped CCE, the testing has not been surrendered to any publisher or service provider. India is far more aware of private profit making as evil than the United States will ever be. It is true that we fewer laws to nail an erring Birla or Ambani, but we have never had crooks like the Americans have had. The Wall Street thugs beat any Indian bania hollow. Coming back to the issue of Common Core in the US, Pearson has taken over testing and assessments in several states which Obama waived off from NCLB of the Bush regime. The consequences are alarming: people are being compelled to buy textbooks and test-prep material from the publisher-of-choice, that is, Pearson. Pearson makes a huge case out of Indian publishers bribing schools to adopt their books. It has a fancy test for its employees making them aware of the consequences of trying to bribe members of the boards of studies of several Indian states. While they are right in doing as much, are we to believe that they do not influence American Congressmen in gaining favour for becoming service providers of choice?
Here is a link to what an American teacher thinks of the entire business: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alan-singer/protest-builds-against-pe_b_1586573.html
We need to understand that the neither Reformation nor the modern American corporations were driven by motives which were largely revolutionary. Traders, kings and plunderers had supported the Reformation not because they wanted an end to the rule of the Church, but because it saved them from the guilt of ruthless profiteering or divorces. The faith of English reformation is largely the faith of convenience. No idiot will ever vouch that Henry VIII was any less despicable than Charles II. Guttenberg, much like Steve Jobbs was a businessman with a new technology. His technology helped the proliferation of languages and the arts. The i-phone and i-pad are yet to yield similar results.
All modern governments piggyback on corporations for sustenance. In India, there is a new course for schools called Listening and Speaking and the CBSE has made Trinity College the examiner. The syllabus of Trinity College GESE is way beyond the realm of ninety per cent CBSE schools in the country. The examinations are sold in India by a leading publisher. I'm sure this is going to catch fire very soon and snowball into a crisis of sorts. The sooner the better.
To conclude: people like Luis are plain naive to assume that we can call contractors to meetings which decide the terms of a tender. They are also stupid in believing that Cerf is a crusader. The Crusade was fought to gain trade-access to the east via the Arab land. No crusader in any history has ever fought a battle without the ulterior motive of trade or business. We are of course not speaking of the likes of Che, Ho Chi Minh, Lenin, Luther King and Gandhi.
There is a huge need for people and their representatives to make laws which protect the common men and women from the serpents of private business.
Warm regards,
Arani

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Thanks for reflecting seriously on the subject, Arani. This article in The Statesman has presented the relevant facts and opinions in analytical detail, so it's worth looking up: http://bit.ly/Ssc0d9

Among other interesting facts it highlights, I want to draw your attention to at least two: a) that Google avoided about $2 billion in worldwide income taxes in 2011 by shifting $9.8 bn. in revenues into a Bermuda shell company (taxes, the governments of many countries claim, that could go a long way towards building their own internet infrastructure, thereby breaking the stranglehold of a few (largely American-) behemoths, and b) the ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), though nominally a private, non-profit body, is actually overseen by the US Department of Commerce, meaning that, as an August 2012 report in the leading Chinese daily claimed, the USA 'controls and owns all cyberspaces in the world, and other countries can only lease Internet addresses and domain names from the US, leading to American hegemonic monopoly over the internet'. Which may be a bit of an exaggeration, and I am no admirer of the Chinese system, but it is easily understandable to all but low-level techies that this cannot be a happy state of affairs for the entire non-American human population, especially those of us who do not think that mankind is best served by letting a few greedy pigs corner the overwhelming monetary benefits accruing from new technologies.

Do read the whole article for yourself.

Saikat Chakraborty said...

Dear Sir,

I think this article might be of some relevance to this post. Please visit the following link-
http://www.propublica.org/article/stanford-promises-not-to-use-google-money-for-privacy-research

With regards,
Saikat.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Thanks for looking up an old post, Saikat, and for the link to that very thought-provoking article. As I think I have told you privately, the kind of funding that any kind of research gets these days puts furrows on my brow. Me, I am a very small reed, but for living my own life, I decided long ago to take any kind of revelation by the 'latest scientific research' with more than a pinch of salt.

Sir