Monday, January 18, 2010

Civil Liberties Protection Or Commercial Gain: What Is Google’s Objective?

Google has been “cooperating” with law enforcement and security agencies all over the World. To perform its cooperating task more adequately it is making every possible effort to get the relevant data of its users. As a result, the privacy and anonymity of its users is more vulnerable to legal and illegal disclosures. At last Google objected to the omnipresent censorship by Chinese authorities and declared that it would withdraw from China. This situation may also arise at other places of the World, including India. However, the bigger questions are whether Google would cease to operate from China and if it does not cease its operations than whether it would no longer censor the results from Chinese netizens, says Praveen Dalal. If Google does not exercise either of these options than the entire episode would be branded as a “gimmick” to increase “commercial gain” in China and nothing more. Recently, Google was in controversy for showing Indian Territory differently in three different parts of the World. So much so that Indian Government decided to ban Google maps in India. Some observers have remarked that by showing different results in different parts of the World Google is trying to make happy all concerned. This smacks “double standards” on the part of Google and only shows that it is more interested in commercial gains than all other practices objected to by it.

The rules of expression of political thoughts and activities on the Internet are pretty simple and very complex at the same time. You are free to dance the way you like America. Play as long and as much as you want in the fabric of the net but don’t brush away national security.

In the Middle East, as in some South American dictatorships and China, the ubiquitous censors monitor every word what you write. In India we are a very sensible and sensitive democracy. We do willy-nilly try to follow the game of golden-mean. Information Technology Act of 2008 gives the following guidelines:

(a) Ministry of Communication and Information Technology has the power to block sites and remove content to maintain "public order," as well as for national security and to preserve friendly relations with foreign states.
(b) It requires companies to have a point of contact to receive government blocking requests.
(c) A committee of Indian officials with representatives from ministries such as Law and Home Affairs would review blocking requests.
(d) The accused party/company would have 48 hours to present a case.
(e) Company officials who don't assist the government when blocking is mandated would face a fine and up to seven years in jail.
(f) India's Penal Code, Section 295A

So far the things are almost running smoothly and there have been no evidence of any major violations from any horizon. However, the recent confrontation between China and Google does make an interesting story.

A worldwide company DIT was founded in 2001 to provide low-cost, reliable Internet services for people living under repressive regimes. DIT's DynaWeb is a constantly updated, free proxy network designed to circumvent Internet blocking. On 15 September, a volunteer working with DynaWeb, observed that Google's Chinese news was giving one result in China and another in the United States. Bill Xia, CEO of Dynamic Internet Technology (DIT) said, "We were able to confirm this report through proxies in China. Search results inside China do not contain news from blocked sites."

Google tried to water down the issue and made the following response: "In order to create the best possible news search experience for our users, we sometimes decide not to include some sites, for a variety of reasons. They may display improperly in our service, or be inaccessible to users. We have not included links to a number of sources that are not accessible to mainland China Internet users."

Xia remained unconvinced. "The Chinese government controls the media and the military and through them, is able to create a 'Matrix' that hides web sites that relate to civil rights and opinions the Chinese authorities don't want people to see. I condemn it and urge the public to demand that Google explains how it's able to justify the practice." Xia also said that he has demonstrated that Google is using geographical differentiation to display different results to different locations.

Baidu. com is a largest Chinese search engine and Google also has a minority share in it. Two years ago, Baidu infuriated many Chinese Internet users as China's censors had installed new filtering software to keep unwanted information out of the country.
Despite the intellectual flexibility and discretion shown by Google it found that the hackers had attacked 33 other companies, including American companies like Adobe and others. The sophistication of attacks strongly suggests that this operation was either launched by the Chinese government’s agencies, or was approved by them at the least. US Government still cannot do much about it, as Google is unable to prove the allegation on the 100 per cent involvement of the Chinese government.

Google went for a strong retaliation against these hackers by hacking them right back. There are many more moves that might follow in this cyber war between the titans. Let us see how the Google navigates the Animal Farm.