Google: Don’t be Evil

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Don’t be evil is the informal corporate motto of Google, originally suggested by Google employees Paul Buchheit and Amit Patel at a meeting.  Google has the philosophy that”You can make money without doing evil.” Google claims to have made “Don’t Be Evil” a central pillar of their identity, and part of their self-proclaimed core values. Google has been accused of deviating from this motto a few times in the past. In 2006, Google reached a deal with China and censored search results as part of the Golden Shield Project of China. The argument changed from “Don’t be evil” to “Evil Scale” in case of China. Steve Jobs accused Google of back stabbing by entering into the phone business and now the policy proposal along with Verizon this month seems to be last nail in the coffin.

One company for which I had utmost respect was Google. However, my faith in the company is now shaken after the policy framework it released along with Verizon in US in a bid to control the wireless internet (Download Verizon-Google-Legislative-Framework-Proposal to read the fine prints). In the proposal, it is clearly mentioned that for Wireless Broadband, the non-discriminatory requirement would not be applicable. This means that a service provider can engage in undue discrimination against any lawful Internet content, application, or service in a manner that causes meaningful harm to competition or to users. In other words, Verizon would decide in US which content and application can get priority over others and Google by virtue of its dominant position, would get a preferential treatment. It is like two giants coming together and deciding that no new service or application can come up unless it has their blessings.

Most of the industry observers have termed the action of Google as end of net neutrality which would lead to a two tier internet. One super fast internet for the privileged content and the other for the less privileged like the startup firms. First of all there is no logic for applying different parameters to wireless broadband and wired broadband. Yes, the carriers are making investments but the investments in the wireless broadband are less than that in the wired broadband and with technological advancements, the bandwidth cost is coming down drastically as carriers move from WCDMA to HSPA to 4G.

The network carriers have been indulging in acting as toll gates in the past. Many carriers across the world have restricted or slowed access to the peer to peer (P2P) file sharing services like BitTorrent, FastTrack, etc. In October 2007, Comcast, one of the largest broadband internet providers in the USA, started blocking and jamming P2P applications such as BitTorrent. Their rationale was that P2P is mostly used to share illegal content, and their infrastructure is not designed for continuous, high-bandwidth users. The network management clause gives partial legality to this action under the disguise of reasonable network management to reduce or mitigate the effects of congestion on its network. One of the core issues behind the network neutrality controversy is over P2P applications.

Apart from P2P file transfer, the carriers would also try to block Skype, Pandora and other VOIP services to protect their voice revenues. The operators can be transparent about blocking VOIP services but it does not help the consumers in any way. Will they treat the Google Voice the same way as Skype or Pandora? Knowing Google, I am sure it would be willing to do a revenue share with carriers to get carriers to allow Google Voice.

I am particularly worried about the startups companies as any technology that would threaten the carriers either from the service point of view or from bandwidth requirement point of view is likely to be be blocked on wireless internet depriving the consumers of any innovations. Imagine a situation where a startup were to come up with a service that can threaten the carriers or the allies of the carriers, in all probability the carriers are likely to block the service. It is very much evident that the wireless internet is the next big thing, even bigger than the wired internet and hence it is imperative that we do not create unnecessary hindrances to its growth.

Wireless carriers are trying to manage their relevance so that they do not become a dumb pipe just the way it happened to the wired carriers. This explains why Verizon is a party to this recommendation. Coming from the industry giants is going to put extra pressure on FCC. Even AT&T is not averse to Google and Verizon’s position on net neutrality in the wireless industry. The proposed penalty for violation of consumer rights like failing to be transparent would by just $2 million which the carriers would happily part with if they can hurt the smaller competitors by blocking their service.

All in all, if these proposals are excepted by FCC, the consumer would be the loser. To summarize, I would borrow the quote of Jeff Jarvis of Buzz Machine who called this proposal a Munich Pact.

Netizens are now citizens of the Sudentenland. Just as Czechoslovakia was not invited to its cutting apart, so were we not invited to Google and Verizon’s parlays.

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