Today in my Online Communication class we discussed the issue of Internet privacy and specifically Bill c-13 Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act. As part of our discussion, our Instructor divided up the class for a pro-bill C-13 and con-bill C-13 debate. The issue of Internet privacy is a huge one and most of it is uncharted territory, and it is a debate that I am highly interested in. I thought I would try to deconstruct the argument a little further by offering a brief view from both sides of the debate.
Technology and Internet giants Google and Facebook are at the center of the debate. Google and Facebook both have very poor reputations for protecting the privacy of its users. Facebook’s stance is, basically, “get over it” while Google envisions themselves as the next new way to change and influence the world through the flow of information. Critics would disagree saying that Google is just the technocratic elite controlling the flow of information throughout the world and ultimately controlling what we think and what we do.
The book, “The New Digital Age” written by Google’s executives, Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen was written, according to its authors, to explore the effects of technology on our world, and specifically to explore the intersection between technology, the flow of information, and politics. I haven’t read the book, but book reviews state that the book explores both the good and bad of the flow of information in this new technological age and highlights the many ways technology can make people’s lives better throughout the world.
Julian Assange disagrees. Recently he wrote a review of “The New Digital Age” in The New York Times. In the review he claimed that the very objective that Google is trying to achieve, shaping our world through technology, is the very thing that people should be aware of and cautious about. He claims that the book is an attempt by the authors to position Google as “America’s geo-political visionary.” He thinks that “the advance of technology epitomized by Google heralds the death of privacy for most people and shifts the world toward authoritarianism.” This is the thesis of his recent book, “Cypherpunks.” The centralization of power, as represented in technology and knowledge, is, according to Assange, a fulfilling of Orwell’s prophecy.
So, what do you think? Is Google reshaping the world to be a better place, or are they attempting to control the flow of information, infringe on our privacy, and create a “titanic, centralizing evil” in which they call the shots? I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle. I think the views of Google are somewhat idealistic and they will be hard to attain. On the other hand, Assange takes an overly skeptical and critical view of technology and Google. Technology is nothing to be afraid of, and there has to be a certain amount good intentions and trust put in those who hold the power. Is Google really out to control us all, I’m not so sure. However, alternate voices should always be given a platform and place to voice their concerns. I would love to hear further thoughts on this!