Google has donned the cloak of Internet's guardian angel once again, condemning the 'digital disruptions' that some governments unleash and calling for new trade rules to prevent countries from setting up intractable 'trade barriers' of a new kind.
In a policy paper released on Monday the Internet giant said: Trade officials and policymakers should be deeply concerned about the impact of Internet information restrictions on economic growth and trade interests.
Google reminded the western governments that Internet restrictions in countries like China and Vietnam will curb free flow of information and undermine the growth and existence of global free trade.
Google, which fought a bitter battle over Internet freedom against China early this year, said more than 40 governments now engage in broad-scale restriction of online information.
The policy paper pointed out that China has blocked Facebook, Flickr, Twitter and Foursquare from time to time and that Vietnam has shut down Facebook since last year.
However, Google has ostensibly changed track in its fight against control-freak capitals that fear Internet's ability to shatter state control. Earlier, the tech giant adopted the moral high ground and preached the importance of free flow of information and championed the cause of unbridled freedom.
Now, taking a more practical approach, the company said it made more sense if the issue was approached from a trade point of view. Reuters quoted Bob Boorstin, a director of public policy at Google, as saying that the governments, which restrict information flow might be more responsive to an economic argument than an appeal on human rights grounds.
Besides being men with enviable business foresight who spearheaded path-breaking initiatives, Google's founders and top executives are also driven by deep personal convictions about Internet's role, scope and importance.
Google CEO Eric Schmidt, the 'Internet Freedom' poster boy, even said online anonymity was dead and a cult of anonymity was dangerous. Schmidt had reportedly said, In a world of asynchronous threats, it is too dangerous for there not to be some way to identify you.
He also said governments may eventually put an end to anonymity. We need a (verified) name service for people, he said. Governments will demand it.
However, he deemed 'privacy' was different and the company understood the need for online privacy. Privacy is incredibly important, he said in another interview, adding, Privacy is not the same thing as anonymity. It's very important that Google and everyone else respect people's privacy. People have a right to privacy; it's natural; it's normal. It's the right way to do things.
The fact that governments come in the way of Internet freedom and enforce censorships has always irked Google. Its co-founder Sergey Brin, who grew up in Russia, has always been ambivalent on doing business in China, according to media reports.
A WSJ article, published earlier this year, called him 'Google's unofficial corporate conscience' and said Google's decision to withdraw from China was an intensely personal decision, drawing its celebrated founders and other top executives into a debate over the right way to confront the issues of censorship and cyber security.
Google's very public response to what it called a highly sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate infrastructure originating from China was crafted over a period of weeks, with heavy involvement from Google's co-founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the report stated.
It said Brin's early childhood in Russia exacerbated the moral dilemma of cooperating with government censorship.
In his new book The Digital Disruption, co-authored with Jared Cohen, Director of Google Ideas, Eric Schmidt argues that democratic countries should learn to create alliances with people and companies at the forefront of the information revolution to foster the free flow of information and challenge authoritarian regimes.
Google policy paper said the transformative economic benefits of the Internet are under threat as more governments move to impose onerous limits on information flow.
Today more governments are incorporating surveillance tools into their Internet infrastructure; blocking online services in their entirety; imposing new, secretive regulations; and requiring onerous licensing regimes that often discriminate against foreign companies.
The tech pioneer also said the western governments should challenge regimes that enforce crippling limits on the information free flow to make sure global trade practices are not affected.
Governments in the United States, the EU and elsewhere have a variety of existing trade agreements -- principally the WTO General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) -- that can and should be applied where appropriate to combat restriction and disruption of information delivered by the Internet.