Freedom of expression
Latest freedom of expression posts from the blog
Google acts every day to promote and expand free expression online and increase global access to information. As new technology dissolves borders and empowers individuals with more robust free expression tools and greater access to information, we believe that governments, companies, and individuals must work together to protect the right to online free expression.
Google has become a regular focus of governmental efforts to limit individual expression because our technologies and services enable every person with an Internet connection to speak to a worldwide audience. More than 25 governments have blocked our services over the past few years. This has been most apparent in countries like Iran and Syria where our online platforms, like YouTube and Blogger, may be the only means for speech to emerge from communities closed off by authoritarian governments – particularly in times of political unrest. In response, Google has:
Established the Global Network Initiative (GNI) – Google is a founding company member of the GNI, the result of a two year negotiation with human rights organizations, socially responsible investors, and academics. The principles to which we have subscribed lay out a detailed set of guidelines outlining how companies and groups should respond to government censorship attempts or attempts by governments to request personally identifiable information of users.
Asked Western governments to intervene – We’ve pressed governments to make combating Internet censorship a top priority in human rights and economic agendas. In particular, we’ve asked policy makers to recognize and address censorship as a a trade barrier in bilateral and multilateral talks.
Supported individuals and cyberdissidents – We regularly assist research efforts like the Open Net Initiative, the premier monitor of global trends on Internet censorship, by providing funds for their work. We also award scholarships for dissident bloggers to attend conferences like Global Voices, where they can learn skills and form networks with others inside and outside their countries and regions.
Raised the profile of online free expression – Through initiatives like the Breaking Borders Award and hosting panel discussions about online freedom, we hope to continually bring Internet freedom to the forefront of policy negotiations and decisions.
* In June 2009, during the protests that followed a disputed Presidential election, the government of Iran kicked out foreign journalists, shut down the national media and disrupted Internet and cell phone service. With YouTube effectively blocked, Iranians continued to upload videos that documented demonstrations, violent clashes between police and protesters, and other scenes of unrest. The graphic video of Neda Soltan’s murder on YouTube became a testament to the vital role that technology plays in giving a voice to those who once were silenced.
Economic impact of censorship
Google supports strengthening laws and treaties governing foreign trade in order to ensure the free flow of information online and a level playing field that means U.S. companies can fairly compete in markets around the world.
Restrictions on foreign companies in China and elsewhere are an assault on, and run fundamentally counter to, a rules-based, open trading system. They disrupt the provision of Internet services in key markets, undercut revenue streams for businesses and often discriminate against foreign Internet service providers to give local competitors a leg-up.
When governments block a legitimate Internet site (like Google.com or YouTube), impose improper licensing conditions, or erect other barriers, they impede technology and the ability of Google and other companies to provide core services. The majority of Internet-based companies like Google rely on online advertising models to generate revenue, with income directly dependent on how many users can be reached. When a website is taken out of service for a week, it will have an impact on revenue equivalent to 2% of total annual turnover. This means that in countries with developing markets, a couple weeks of blockage is enough to eliminate a site’s entire annual profit.
Google fights Internet restrictions as best as we can around the world. But we and other Internet companies cannot do it alone; we need the help of governments to push back on unfair practices of other governments that impede the Internet. This means using existing trade tools to seek to contain unfair government behavior. And it means updating trade rules – many of which were drafted in a different technological era – and reaching new agreements to more directly protect online services and the growth of an open Internet.
Google’s policy recommendations
Internet services are central to the 21st century economy, and governments must work together to rein in these restrictive practices. The international community must address barriers to the free flow of information online in order to realize the full potential of the Internet as a global marketplace and platform for innovation and economic growth.
First, governments must recognize state-mandated disruptions of Internet services for what they are: unfair foreign trade barriers with a clear impact on international trade and the global economy. By undermining the presumptive free flow of information online, these practices are also a direct assault on the Internet more broadly and its value.
Second, governments should place a high priority on pushing back on particular barriers. This must become part of a 21st century trade enforcement policy – enforcement of trade rules in a way that reflects the new global economy.
Third, governments should work to craft new international rules to better discipline actions that impede the free flow of information over the Internet. We need forward-looking rules that establish a clear presumption in favor of the free flow of information online, and provide maximum protection against the trade barriers of the new technology era.