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Google as Global Government
Submitted by Scott Cleland on Thu, 2015-09-17 12:10
Google’s virtual governance of 2.2 billion (68%) of the world’s 3.2 billion Internet users in 200+ countries is increasingly like that of a government. It controls by one-party-state governance. It polices an enforceable social and economic contract. It negotiates with many sovereign nations. It defends from actual sovereignty via a combination of civil disobedience and opposition to censorship. And it legitimizes via vast dispossession of nations’ digital cultures, and peoples’ digital property and privacy.
Increasingly it appears Google is seeking to accumulate sufficient information, economic, and political power to threaten sovereign nations to negotiate with Google more like a virtual governing equal, and less like a governed corporation that must submit to a sovereign nation’s rule of law. Governments increasingly sense the sovereign threat of Google’s relentless virtual hegemony over their countries’ populaces.
Google’s Supranational Governance Ambitions
Consider Google’s own words.
“Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful…” In 2006, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt explained: “Ultimately our goal at Google is to have the strongest advertising network and all the world’s information.” In 2008, Chairman Schmidt added Google’s “goal is to change the world, and monetization is a technique to do that.”
In 2009, Google’s Chief Economist Hal Varian explained Googlenomics: "Anything that increases Internet use ultimately enriches Google... more eyeballs on the Web lead inexorably to more ad sales for Google.” By 2010, Google’s Peter Greenberger went further: “Anything that benefits the Internet ecosystem will benefit Google.”
In 2009, Google co-founder Sergey Brin insightfully explained:“It’s obvious what our strategy should be. It’s to work on problems on a scale no one else can.” In 2012, Google CEO Larry Page concurred: “I think what we’re about is using large-scale kind of technology.”
In 2013, Google publicized their grandiose ambitions more. “Anything that you see in the real world needs to be in our database,” said Google Map’s executive Evgeny Morozov. “Our goal is to put together a sort of digital mirror of the world,” said Google Maps executive Dan Sieberg. “Our goal is to put computing everywhere,” said then Google SVP (now CEO) Sundar Pichai. “Our goal with Android is to reach everyone,” said Google Chairman Eric Schmidt. And “in the future, there’s going to be no hidden people,” said Google Ideas Director Jared Cohen.
Google Chairman Schmidt’s 2013 book, The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business, laid out Google’s geopolitical change vision of how increasingly universal Internet use and access to information enable “Internet statehood” and “Internet asylum.” To attract attention to his book, Mr. Schmidt toured the world as Google’s de facto Foreign Minister, including visits to North Korea (over the U.S. Government’s objections), Myanmar, and Cuba, among other countries.
Mr. Schmidt warned: "I don't believe society understands what happens when everything is available, knowable and recorded by everyone all the time;" and further warned: “almost nothing short of a biological virus, can scale as quickly, efficiently or aggressively as these technology platforms and this makes the people who build, control and use them powerful too.”
Google’s Monoculture Global Digital Commons
Another way Google aggressively seeks to legitimize its supranational virtual state status is supplanting nations as the digital keepers of their cultures and national identities. Google de facto is establishing a One World Government Ministry of Culture via its inexorable push for a digital commons of the world’s information.
If “information is power” in the actual world, then virtual centralization of key cultural information is the information power to supplant national cultures and identities -- with Google’s one world monoculture vision of Google-organized, Google-ranked, and Google-curated cultural information. One-world-culture powered by Google.
Consider the evidence of Google’s breathtaking progress toward a Google global monoculture that faces no real competition or accountability.
Google Translate provides written translations for over 500 million users a month, covering 90 languages addressing 97% of the world’s population. Google offers search in 123 languages, Gmail in 71, YouTube in 61, Earth in 45, and News in 35 (all per Google). Google is rapidly supplanting nations as the keeper of their language and cultures, because Google increasingly dominates the understanding of nations’ languages and cultures for non-speakers.
Maps/Location Services -- “Our map… is the world’s map. … Maps are an expression of culture,” explained Google Earth’s Rebecca Moore. Google’s user and publisher dominance of Google Maps (Earth, Maps, Street View, etc.) makes Google increasingly the de facto arbiter of many geopolitical territorial and naming disputes. That’s because of the unique information power of over a billion Google Map users making >1 billion map searches daily; >1.2m websites integrating with Google Maps; and >75% of the world’s population being able to view their homes on Google Maps.
Information -- “Search is critical. If you are not found, the rest cannot follow” explained Google executive Santiago de la Mora. Google search offers a uniquely large and comprehensive information set via the world’s largest index size of >100 million gigabytes that’s generated from the unique crawling of over 60 trillion unique URLs. In addition, Google’s Knowledge Vault is the world’s largest machine readable dataset of ~1.6b facts, putting Google increasingly on path to supplant Wikipedia as the world’s encyclopedia.
Culture/Museums – Google’s Cultural Institute is "an effort to make important cultural material available and accessible to everyone and to digitally preserve it to educate and inspire future generations.” In just a few years, it now works with 850 museums in 61 countries. (Please see Maureen Dowd's New York Times inspiring column: "The Google Art Heist") This diverts people from nationally-curated museum/cultural websites to Google’s Google-curated, digital commons monoculture.
Google also is alone in the world as a company that has copied over 30 million of the world’s books largely without any permission from the copyright owners. In addition, Google is a recalcitrant enforcer of film, video and song piracy, because it wants to ensure every video produced is uploaded into YouTube’s index so it can retain digital copies for its dominant search engine and unmatched machine-learning ambitions.
News – Google News aggregates news from 25,000 publishers in 35 languages covering almost half of the world’s population. Concerning one of its most political and election-sensitive services -- how people get their news filtered and promoted -- Google has been most aggressive in maintaining its dominant control of how a nation’s news is filtered, organized, ranked and promoted for most Internet users interested in aggregated news. At least four times, Google has acted supra-nationally in threatening to yank Google News’ economic benefits from countries that pressured Google to pay for scraping and aggregating access to the countries’ copyrighted news providers: Belgium, France, Germany and Spain.
Video Distribution -- “There is a real desire for YouTube to be a global classroom and a global town square, not just a global living room,” saidGoogle Executive Hunter Walk. Google offers Internet video distribution on demand to ~1.6 billion YouTube users -- about half of all Internet users. YouTube is localized in 75 countries in 61 languages addressing >90% of the world’s population. Long term, Google’s exceptionally dominant global video distribution capability clearly seeks to increasingly supplant nations as the virtual teacher of its citizens and convener of its political debate/election discourse.
Based on the evidence, Google owns most of the characteristics of what Google Chairman Eric Schmidt calls “Internet Statehood” in his book The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business. Google governs and polices the largest system of people in the world, 2.2 billion Google users, more than the populations of China, the EU and the U.S. combined. Google claims to represent, enable, protect, negotiate for, and oppose sovereign nation states for its user-citizens -- like any another sovereign power does.
If “information is power,” Google is the lone virtual information superpower. Google $70 billion in annual information-based revenues is larger than the annual GDPs of 135 countries. And Google’s global ambitions, achievements and impact arguably may be greater than three quarters of the countries in the world.
If the old adage is true that “history is written by the victors,” the digital-histories of the world’s nation states are on path to be rewritten by the current victor of “The Digital Age” – Google. That makes Google an international, cyber systemic risk to the 21st century concept of national sovereignty.
Forewarned is forearmed.
Scott Cleland served as Deputy U.S. Coordinator for International Communications & Information Policy in the George H. W. Bush Administration. He is President of Precursor LLC, an emergent enterprise risk consultancy for Fortune 500 companies, some of which are Google competitors, and Chairman of NetCompetition, a pro-competition e-forum supported by broadband interests. He is also author of “Search & Destroy: Why You Can’t Trust Google Inc.” Cleland has testified before both the Senate and House antitrust subcommittees on Google and also before the relevant House oversight subcommittee on Google’s privacy problems.