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What Sergey Brin thinks of Facebook, Apple, and the freedom of speech on the Internet

April 16, 2012

As the founder of a company whose publicly assumed goal is to make the world’s information universally accessible and useful, Google’s Sergey Brin doesn’t have very nice things to say about Big G’s competitors and other Internet players. Convinced that there are “very powerful forces lined up against the open Internet on all sides and around the world”, Brin revealed in an interview with The Guardian that he’s now more worried than he’s ever been in the past. In his own words, it’s a scary world out there.

Echoing the sentiments that Larry Page, Google’s other founder and the company’s current CEO, has evoked in another interview last week, Brin warned about Facebook and Apple’s tendency to stick with their proprietary platforms and restrict access to their users, which would only stifle innovation and “balkanize” the web. For starters, you can’t search “all the information in apps,” according to the billionaire, since the data isn’t made available for web crawlers.

The social media giant is also called out for being too restrictive. “Facebook has been sucking down Gmail contacts for many years,“ Brin complained, who continued to say that Google wouldn’t have been able to exist if the internet was dominated by Facebook in 1998. “The kind of environment that we developed Google in, the reason that we were able to develop a search engine, is the web was so open.”

Aside from the walled gardens that Facebook and Apple have put up, other threats to the freedom of the Internet include the government and the entertainment industry. Hollywood has been pushing through legislation that allows the taking down of any website suspected to facilitate access to pirated content. According to Brin, the entertainment industry will only be “shooting itself in the foot, or maybe worse than in the foot”. He likens the failed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA) bills to the measures that China and Iran are taking to silence protesters.

Though he hasn’t tried it for many years, Sergey Brin said that, ultimately, the decision to obtain illegal materials on the web comes down to how easy it is for users to obtain the content they like. “When you have to jump through all these hoops [to download legal content], the walls created are disincentives for people to buy”.

Acknowledging the huge amount of data that Google has on its users, Brin said that the company is often forced to hand some of it over to US authorities, but not without a fight. “”We push back a lot; we are able to turn down a lot of these requests. We do everything possible to protect the data. If we could wave a magic wand and not be subject to US law, that would be great.”

Do you think Google is the good guy here? Can we trust Google for not being evil like their often-invoked motto suggests?