Andrew Sullivan flags a noble-sounding quote from Google CEO Eric Schmidt:
“The internet is the strongest force for individual self-expression ever invented. Governments around the world, even democratically elected, have difficulty with [the flow of] information online. Dictatorships and closed communities one after the other will try and shut down communication from inside. Strategies governments use trying to shut down people’s speech are terrible strategies and will not succeed . . .”
This, of course, is from the same company that helps the Chinese government filter out “objectionable” content from Internet searches. I’m generally uninterested in Google’s corporate PR strategy, but this strikes me as a gigantic cop-out. In essence, Schmidt is suggesting that Google’s technical support for repressive regimes is irrelevant because attempts to limit “self-expression” won’t succeed. Well, they might succeed if the Chinese government works hand-in-glove with our most advanced software companies to shut down online dissent. At the very least, I daresay Google’s efforts will help prolong the regime’s ability to control the flow of public information. And if Schmidt truly believes that efforts to limit information are a lost cause, isn’t he essentially lying to his company’s client, the Chinese government, which seems to be operating under the assumption that the Great Firewall is pretty darn effective at “shut[ting] down people’s speech?”
The most noxious thing about this passively-constructed exercise in corporate ass-covering is how Schmidt simultaneously applauds the information revolution for empowering free speech while abdicating responsibility for facilitating government repression. After all, how can crackdown-enabling corporations like Google be criticized if the free flow of information is an inevitability? Those dissidents – they’ll find away around our firewalls – after all, they always do! Except when they, err, don’t.
As an avowed techno-skeptic, I’m not very confident that Schmidt’s much-ballyhooed information revolution will magically solve state repression. I’m quite confident, however, that celebrating these developments while simultaneously working behind the scenes to control their most radical features is the worst kind of corporate hypocrisy.