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November 20, 2009

Disturbing self-interested political manoeuvrings in the Digital Age?

Has the day come when the undermining of online free speech and action at last arrived? If so, should we not be hotly debating underlying political interference on what we do online? And what about the motives: are they being enacted as a direct result of murky personal business interests which are being supported by Google?

A racist photo of Michelle Obama, showing as the #1 result, was pulled off  Google’s Image Index last week. It was deemed offensive, yet broke none of Google’s Three Guiding Rules. Justifying such action was, to say the least, shaky, in that they justified the ban on the grounds that “the host site was serving malware to users”.

Interestingly, according to searchengineland.com, the malware sweep did not reach Google’s main web search index and the site itself is still listed in their search results with no malware warning. However, Matt Cutts said the site was violating Google’s webmaster guidelines: “…that page did violate our webmaster guidelines because it was serving malware to users, which violates the quality guideline that says ‘Don’t create pages with malicious behavior, such as phishing or installing viruses, trojans, or other badware.’ I believe that the Images team did a general anti-malware sweep.” Apparently, Google does indeed work in mysterious ways.

A Twitter chief recently told Murdoch that his internet paywalls idea will not work and that charging to read news content is like “putting the genie back in the bottle”, even though over the past month or so Mr Murdoch has launched a series of scathing attacks on Google and the BBC for breaking one of his favourite commandments: Thou shall not steal content created from my titles, most especially the Times and the Sun. In doing so, it will bring forth my wrath and will resolutely be devoured by fire. After retreating mildly at one stage, he was back the next week reaffirming his commitment to the erection of online paywalls next spring (or is it next month, or next summer?).

Reid Hoffman of networking site LinkedIn, joined the fray and added: “I am sure that during the transition from horses to automobiles there were some people bemoaning the loss of horse transport.” But, I guess, they were not Mr Murdoch’s mules.

Google’s critics then called into question the “favouritism” shown towards them by the Obama administration, and have been quick to point out its ties with Washington DC; the Wall Street Journal reported that Google was the fourth-largest corporate contributor to the Obama Presidential Campaign.

Meanwhile, in Britain, Business Secretary Peter Mandelson is seeking to amend copyright law in new crackdown on filesharing. There, an unelected representative of an unelected prime minister, Mandelson is to amend laws on copyright and give the government sweeping new powers against people accused of illegal downloading.

Internet Service Providers were aghast and warned that such a move would be both unworkable and unlawful. While these proposed changes may seem trivial they are also wide-ranging, given that even minor copyright infringements for photographs and text will be severely punishable, even though the law is hugely complex on the issue.

But did Lord Mandelson’s move allude to any personal business interests? According to the Daily Mail it did. In a recent article, “Mandelson goes to war on teenagers downloading their music and movies…just days after dining with anti-piracy billionaire”, the piece states that the business secretary “ordered officials to draw up the draconian regulations days after dinner with David Geffen, who founded the Asylum record label which signed Bob Dylan…The pair dined on 7 August at the Rothschild family villa on Corfu, while Mandelson was holidaying on the Greek island.”

Even the Tory Opposition’s backbencher David Davies, said: “It does seem a remarkable coincidence. Peter Mandelson should be forced to reveal the full extent of his meetings with wealthy friends on holiday and, in the name of openness, disclose exactly what they discussed.”

In conclusion, are these “interventions” at government level merely conspiratorial or is self-interest driving them to introduce new laws and protocols that are having a direct impact on what we can read, watch and say?

John Sylvester is the media director of V9 Design & Build and an expert in search engine optimization and web marketing strategies.

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