The Illusion of the Free Internet

[Original German Blog Post]

Dec. 4 (Bloomberg) — PayPal Inc., the payment processor owned by EBay Inc., cut access today to the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks.org for violating its acceptable use policy.

(www.businessweek.com)

Earlier this year, I wanted to order a book at an Indian publisher. When trying to pay via the PayPal-link on the publisher’s homepage, I was shown a message, that PayPal would no longer allow money transfers with India. Just that. Without stating any reason.

In the discussion about Google Streetview, one argument has especially stricken me: people, not wanting to contribute their homes to Google’s database, face the accusation, they would promote “censorship”, or would even be “against the freedom of the Internet” – and likewise harsh criticism.

The truth is: Google, Facebook, Amazon, Ebay are economic enterprises. The way, Amazon and Ebay deal with Wikileaks show, which kind of free these companies really represent: free as in free beer – and it has little in common with freedom, that many convenient services of these companies are apparently for free.

If the publications of Wikileaks should be protected or damned, is not the question, discussed here. Ethical or political arguments are not discussed by Amazon and Ebay at all. They solely refer to their terms and conditions, which Wikileaks might have broken objectively.

If we leave the Internet to the Googles, Facebooks, Amazons and Ebays, we degrade the Internet zu some machinery for manipulation and marketing. Every society – even every community – should take care to not completely economise their most important contents and interfaces. Regulations like the Fixed Book Price Agreement or the broadcasting legislation have originated from this idea – and they have been successful in the “old” media world over decades. Now it’s about bringing forward the freedom of the media politically and ethically and not merely driven by economy.

Boycotts may help to reach out to companies – and in our abstinence from beloved services, they show us how dependent we may have in fact become. But in the end, the only help is, getting alternatives ourself.

Read more:
Virtual Broadcasting
Censonrship?!
Without Google

Cenorship?!
My third day without Google.

[Original German Blog Post]

Leave aside the fact that Google was happy to censor results for China until its servers were hacked. The fact is, Google still censors search results in other countries at the request of their governments. […] Censoring results for years, shifting course for entirely unrelated reasons, and then vilifying competitors who don’t jump on the bandwagon. (Though, of course, completely Google’s prerogative.) But it’s particularly hypocritical when Google is still happily censoring its search and YouTube products for other countries.
http://www.businessinsider.com

Today’s post on my using the Net without search engines I wrote in Berlin. Accordingly it is burdened with
the pompous solemness of a federal capital.

The indifferent position of Google, Microsoft and other media conglomerates – up to being willingly supportive to regimes of injustice – should earn our harshest criticism. Reports like Google giving in with the French authorities leave also a feeling of helplessness. What happens if such a core part of our communication infrastructure can be bound by mere administrative acts?

Obviously something is missing: to respect online media as more and more relevant platforms of the formation of our political and social opinion; to grant online media the constitutional and administrative rank, that they should get for long by their relevance.

With censorship we usually associate violent suppression of critical opinions or positions that deviate from the mainstream. The expatriation of Ovid, the church’s index, the bourgeois-authoritarian censorship in Metternich’s Deutscher Bund – to the murderous systems of totalitarian censorship in the twentieth century: at first sight there are few reasons why it should be allowed to states to limit free speech and the access thereto.

However, taking a more subtle perspective there are very well some points why we do have the right to argue with Google. Defamation, breaking laws, hate speech, all this is banned from media with good reason. And with good cause there is the Press Council and the option to go to court. We should not let us getting persuaded, that our asking for keeping to democratic rights would be breaching the dyke (what a metaphor!) for censorship and would take us the legitimation to promote globally our understanding of freedom of opinion.

To regard the Internet as today’s broadcasting, as the Bavarian prime minister has demanded in his key note to this year’s Medientage München Conference, I consider completely justified. The Internet not just takes the role that broadcasting used to hold, it even today does much more in distributing opinion, information and entertainment than the publishers or broadcasters would ever have.

So it is even more important to take care for plurality, for a multitude of offerings amongst which also the publicly funded, cultural, and journalistic freedom should be found.

Although I am living my third day without search engines, I am not that naïve to believe my own Google-fasting to be more than a temporally limited abstinence: I do not want to abandon search engines permanently or totally. I wished that out Europe’s societies’ centre would form a liberal civil rights movement, articulating atractive alternatives of the kind of Wikipedia or OpenStreetmap in the Net.

The other posts of my experiment “Without Google”:

  • Everything is turned into a highway
  • Digital Litercy
  • Censorship
  • Orientation with Openstreetmap
  • Valuable recommandations

    and the beginning of the experiment:

  • Without Google
  • Virtual Broadcasting

    [Original German Blog-Post]

    “What men share with all other forms of animal life was not considered to be human.”

    “Action, the only activity that goes on directly between men without the intermediary of things or matter, corresponds to the human condition of plurality … this plurality is specifically the condition — not only the conditio sine qua non, but the conditio per quam — of all political life.”

    “The distinctive trait of the household sphere was that in it men [sic] lived together because the were driven by their wants and needs.”

    “Force and violence are justified in this [oiconomic] sphere because they are the only means to master necessity.”

    “Society always demands that its members act as though they were members of one enormous family which has only one opinion and one interest”

    Hannah Arendt, ‘The Human Condition’

    The body – our Conditio Humana – ties us to the earth and sets natural boundaries to our longing for freedom. This common perception leads Hannah Arendt to the central thoughts of her philosophy of the ‘Human Condition’. In opposition to that is our ability to act, at least from time to time, to step outside the bodily confinement, to differentiate us as person, and jointly with others form the Polis, the public.

    In this Aristotelian picture, Labour, Economy lie in contrast to that completely within the realm of the private, the Oikos. In modern societies, a restriction of work and production to the private household is no longer possible; the public is mixed with privacy – a “publication” of the economy and thus a “privatisation” of the public takes place – with grave consequences:
    by this socialization, that was called “rise of the social” by Hannah Arendt, the freedom, which had been integral to the public space is subordinated under the “animalic” satisfaction of economic needs. In an oikonomised Polis it is only hardly possible, to set immaterial goals and to follow values outside the economy.
    ***

    The Internet has been often called a modern Agora – also the term Forum is used in the Net with a purpose. In deed the Internet seamed to form the perfect public space in which a liberal society could unfold perfectly.

    Economic enterprises like Google, Facebook, Twitter etc. make an elementary part of today’s Internet infrastructure. To stay in Hannah Arendt’s metaphor – an inleakage of economy into the political sphere.

    One example shall make clear the very tangible consequences of this – in my opinion necessary and hardly avoidable development>

    The ‘Collateral Murder’ video which Wikileaks had published had been known to the Washington Post for a longer time. When Wikileaks at last put the Video on Youtube, it was removed at once – likely after invention of the US government. Only international pressure and the illustriousness of Wikileaks made Google restoring the Video online.

    Here we see how basically the freedom of the press is touched by this topic – what use is in independent journalism, when the publication does not reach out to anyone anymore, because (private run) enterprises that have monopolistic control on access or even execute censorship? And not out of evilness but for economic reason.
    ***

    A Website not indexed by Google does de facto not exist; a book not offered by Amazon just as well be pulped right away; music that is not listed on i-tunes will hardly be listened to. It is high time that we – as the society – become active again, take initiative, raise our voice. And not by trying to keep everything in the old tracks by regulations and laws (which is effectless anyway). No, it is thus important to take an active role and not just to react.

    For decades there was no doubt that media are part of the Polis and not of the Oikos. For media as public there are minimum requirements>

    • Non-discriminatory access (all information is equally available for all users)
    • Net neutrality (every publisher has the same right of distribution of his content)
    • Plurality (of choice)
    • Societal influence (transparent representation of ethic and cultural values)

    In Europe’s and especially federal German media tradition since WWII this becomes particularly visible with broadcasting law. Out of these rules of democratic-political media culture the large public service broadcasting institutions were shaped, that took an important position in the public life of the European Societies.

    As the Internet does not just substitute broadcasting (to adopted the regulations more or less unchanged would then be an easy task), but lead far above this classic media concept by displacing classic media in their relevance, the influence of these media on our society fades away.

    Therefore we need a discussion on ‘Virtual Broadcasting’, on public or public-law Internet.

    Thereto we want to invite to virtueller-rundfunk.de and hope for active participation!