Google’s Eric Schmidt, speaking the Dublin summit on extremist violence (which we discussed earlier today), talked about growing problems with internet censorship and the risks faced by internet companies in authoritarian countries. Among other concerns, Schmidt said he feared the the possibility that Google employees might be arrested or even tortured for their involvement with un-censored channels of information.
The internet has become an increasingly prominent medium for the spread of political information, and that includes both the accepted mainstream (such as the Obama campaign, which many political analysts say became successful because of its effective use of the web, and especially media) and the dissident groups (such as the revolutionary change seen in Egypt and Tunisia).
Google’s objective, which focuses on providing access to and organizing the world’s information, isn’t compatible with censorship. Google backed out of China, a market of a billion potential users, because the company was not willing to comply with the regulations of the Chinese government. While Schmidt wasn’t willing to say which countries he fears may take action against Googlers, he did state that “There are countries where it is illegal to do things that Google encourages. In those countries, there is a real possibility of [employees] being put in prison for reasons which are not their fault.”
Beyond the famed Googler Wael Ghonim, who both used the web to spread anti-government information and was arrested for those efforts, Google has launched services to help people continue to access information even when their government doesn’t necessarily approve. In Tunisia, Google helped users by providing a phone-to-Twitter service that short-circuited the government’s attempt to fully block the internet.
With the internet becoming more prominent and Google continuing to play a role in keeping information access open, Schmidt is not optimistic. “I think this problem is going to get worse,” he stated.
[Sources include: Reuters]