Posted by Tom Foremski - February 24, 2010
It seems that the New York Times agrees with my view that the Italian court ruling on Google hosting a video of a disabled boy being bullied, [Italian Decision Could Help Traditional Media Orgs], potentially benefits Italian prime minister and media magnate Silvio Berlusconi:
In Italy, where Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi owns most private media and indirectly controls public media, there is a strong push to regulate the Internet more assertively than it is controlled elsewhere in Europe. Several measures are pending in Parliament here that seek to impose various controls on the Internet.
Critics of Mr. Berlusconi say the measures go beyond routine copyright questions and are a way to stave off competition from the Web to public television stations and his own private channels -- and to keep a tighter grip on public debate.
The Google ruling comes amid other proposed legislation that would seek to bureaucratize the Internet in Italy, including the highly contested Italian version of a European directive that would compel online broadcasters to seek the same licensing agreements as broadcast television. Google lobbied for changes to the proposal.
I've said this before and I don't mind saying this again: Google is a media company -- it publishes pages of content with advertising around it. Just like a newspaper. What's not a media company about that?
Google is not a technology company.
You cannot buy any technology from Google. You can buy technology from Oracle (databases), or from Intel (microprocessors).
(OK. You can buy a search appliance from Google but that is a tiny business that barely registers in its financial results.)
Google is a technology-enabled media company. Therefore, it will come under similar regulations that apply to media companies.
As the New York Times reports:
The verdict, though subject to appeal, could have sweeping implications worldwide for Internet freedom: It suggests that Google is not simply a tool for its users, as it contends, but is effectively no different from any other media company, like newspapers or television, that provides content and could be regulated.
I've been saying that Google is a media company for about five years. Today, more people understand this point, and this is what the Italian ruling is about.
And this is the issue that will chase Google in other countries too.
[This is a very important point: This issue is one that can help traditional media companies. If Google's business costs rise because it has to hire people to monitor its content, like other media companies have to do, then that establishes a more even playing field. The cost of online advertising will rise and that will be good for media companies struggling to make the transition to online. It will increase their potential revenues from online media.]
Google can't continue to turn a blind eye to its social responsibilities. It has to face them or it will be forced to face them.
If media companies such as newspapers have to shoulder social responsibilities then Google, and other Internet companies, need to do the same.
"Do no evil" is passive "Do some good" is what Google needs to do.
Yes, it is tough to do that, but I know Google can do it. I'm constantly amazed at how it manages to deal with some of the most difficult problems around. It can do this and still prosper.
It's better that turning a blind eye to its social responsibilities and hiding behind "Internet freedom" as an excuse for the right to publish a video of a disabled boy being beaten and insulted.
Google's position on this issue is risky.
The risk is not from public opinion but from within its ranks. If its own people, its employees, start to lose their respect for the company, then it is in trouble.
That's what happened at Yahoo, with its horrible policy of working with Chinese authorities to finger and imprison dissidents. I know from personal experience, that people that worked at Yahoo lost a lot of respect for their management, and that damaged Yahoo tremendously.
You can trace Yahoo's problems directly from the start of its China policy.
Take a look at the stock market value of Yahoo at the time it was revealed by Reporters without Frontiers, to have acted as a "police informant for the Chinese."
I'm not saying that this Italian issue is anywhere as bad as Yahoo's actions in China. But I am saying that this is a good time for Google to step up and consider its responsibilities -- before it is forced to do so.
And before people, especially its own, lose respect for the company.
This is an issue that will come up time and again. It's something that Google cannot continue to evade. I think it's best to deal with this sooner rather than later.