Letters to the Editor: April 2009

The Vienna Review welcomes letters from its readers. Contact us at editor@viennareview.net

Dear Vienna Review,

In the March 2009 issue, a polemical opinion piece by Esther Dyson ran under the headline “Big Brother Google?”

The author, “an active investor in a variety of start ups” and likely a Google shareholder as well, appears terrified that Google may come under the control of international governance, and raises the specter of a WTO-like bureaucracy. While defending Google from its many critics, she even suggests that by cooperating with Chinese censorship, Google is in fact fighting “censorship — by doing, not by shouting.”

Ignorance really is bliss so long as the dividends keep rolling. She dismisses many other criticisms, suggesting that somehow Google’s Business Ethics will be spotless through the magic of the market, even though this philosophy has failed in nearly every case and even pillars of the free market like Milton Friedman scoff at this quaint notion. Among the many criticisms she does not address are the privacy issues around features like “Street View” or the dangerous redefining of Fair Use that is Google Book Search, itself a giant transfer of information from the public to the private sector.

Ever since societies became literate, there have been attempts to centralize, maximize and optimize access to information. Until now, dedicated professionals following an ethical code far more complex than “Don’t Be Evil” and working on a purely non-profit basis have performed nearly all of this effort, and been tireless fighters against censorship as well. Librarians as a professional class have an even more complicated relationship with Google than Ms. Dyson and more of them are calling for a kind of international governance if not outright nationalization.

Readers interested in Google as Big Brother should explore Dyson’s likely target Siva Vaidhyanathan’s forthcoming book, “The Googlization of Everything.”

Benjamin Fasching-Gray

Librarian, Webster University Vienna

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