Thursday, 26 August 2010

Notes from a Google Barcamp: The something-for-nothing brigade

Guest post by Paul van Dinther
    THIS WEEKEND I PRESENTED some of my PlanetInAction.Com work at a Google Barcamp here in Auckland discussing various Google Technologies, and people’s reactions to it.
    The day started with a topic on so-called “net neutrality,” the idea that ISPs should not be able to favor some types of data over others. Almost to a man and woman, the attendees disapproved of Google’s proposal to prioritise certain types of traffic on its own new wireless networks.  The key claim was that airwaves and frequencies are in “public ownership.” Yet not a single person in the room recognised the simple fact that Google is proposing to do something on a network that Google itself owns!
    Google knows wireless data has a constrained capacity. Profit is the motivation that drives them to shape a service that has the potential for maximum return, thus enabling them to invest and sustain a profitable and usable level of service. A fact that was totally lost on a large part of the audience who simply wanted a say in property in someone else’s property.
    SO WE MOVED ON TO NZ government plans to block copyright offenders’ access to the internet.
    This time a mixed response. Some said "Yes" because it enabled offenders to be dealt with permanently, while others said "No" because it would make it impossible to access the internet for learning. "You mean porn?" someone inevitably intervened.
    Once again, nobody entertained the idea of keeping the government out of it altogether. I suggested that ISPs set their own terms and conditions in accordance with the law and, if those terms are broken—for violating copyrights, for example—then the ISP can and should cut you off. However, other ISP's should be free to open an account with you. No government meddling needed.
    Someone in the audience asked: "What if none of the ISP's want you anymore?" My response: "Well then you are screwed, no more internet for you." A teacher objected that "Internet access is a human right." Lot's of agreeing nods. The reasoning was that people “need” the internet for their education. (Need, apparently, being used as a claim on others.)
    I asked them if they were aware that in manufacturing this “right” they intended to impose a duty on someone else to deliver that right. Well that was easily solved for these people: government should play a bigger role in imposing that alleged duty.  Their “need” was that important, apparently.
    I pointed out that, since the government’s announcement that billions of taxpayer dollars would be poured into fibre infrastructure, many potential network investors had simply closed their wallets in response—resulting in less overall investment and far less diversity and choice, and with the government’s hands on the internet faucet.
    THE TOPIC SHIFTED TO privacy with regard to Google Maps and Google Earth—my area of expertise. I showed the audience how data from both Google Maps and Google Earth is contributed from many sources, such as the old historic aerial photography from 1963 of the North Shore. Someone suggested that Google would soon own all our information. It needed pointing out that Google collects, stores and distributes such information but does not own it, any more than a publisher does when he publishes someone else’s photos. Just as in a book, the old historic aerial photographs remain under the ownership of the original owner, in this case Land Information NZ, on whose website those same images can be found.
      "Google Street view invades our privacy" was the next fatuous whine, the whiners oblivious to the fact that all data in Street View is public information easily obtainable by anyone walking down a street.
    SO, A BIG DAY for the whiners.  But who exactly were these people? Well as it turned out there was a large contingent of school teachers among the audience.
    Why was I surprised.


Paul van Dinther

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