What is Net Neutrality and why should I care

Today I’m at the OpenWest conference, but today is also a day that — if you noticed the pop up that appeared when you loaded this site — websites and organizations all over the world (including my employer, Human Made) are taking a stand in support of Net Neutrality. There’s a battle being waged but a lot of people don’t really understand the weapons being used by either side or why it should affect them.

I was contacted by someone at VPN Mentor about an infographic they produced that explains what’s happening right now. Full disclosure: I know nothing about VPN Mentor — I use a VPN service called Private Internet Access and have been for several years and am very happy with them. However, I think this infographic is good at explaining what’s going on. Feel free to share if you so desire.

And if you are a WordPress owner and want to support this (and future) campaigns defending internet freedoms, check out and install my Cat Signal plugin.

Google America

If you were to take a poll today of approval ratings for Barack Obama, I can guarantee that the number of supporters in this country of our President is far surpassed by the number of people who use Google services on a daily basis.

How did this happen?  How did we become so complacent?  How is it that more people trust a huge corporate conglomerate more than their President?

Google and Verizon’s legislative proposal, if adopted, would give them more regulatory control over access and the future of the Internet than the FCC, the government organization tasked to protect corporations from having too much control over communications technology (i.e. precisely what Google/Verizon propose to do).  Besides dictating to the FCC what the FCC can and cannot do with regards to internet access, the proposal allows access providers to prioritize traffic however they see fit, without that pesky FCC being able to get in the way and defend users’ rights.  But it’s not just about users.  It’s about Google maintaining its dominance of the market.  By creating a tiered structure with some prioritized traffic and other, slow-lane traffic, Google/Verizon are making it so new, upstart, garage companies and providers will never be able to compete with the big guys without significant financial investment.  Which is just how they’d like it.  And if there were any little guys who had something of interest?  You can bet Google will swallow them up like they’ve done in the past, all under the guise of providing users with a more complete and useful experience on the web.

The thing is, Google didn’t hide their growth.  We all watched and applauded as the little search engine that could rumbled up the mountain, “I think I can”‘ing their way past Apple and Microsoft not just in search but in technology in general.  The whole time, they released these little test projects that we gobbled up — they were so useful!  It seems foreboding now, more than liberating, that there was once a bid for their CEO to be Obama’s Chief Technology Officer.  Rather than being a reflection of new ideas, it’s easy to see it, instead, as being just one more way the corporation has tried to bind themselves with the American government.

Possibly what irks me the most is that I feel like I, personally, should have seen this coming.  Google played out a particular trick that I’ve seen once before in internet con artists.

Step 1: Establish your credibility

Google was able to earn points by building a technically superior search engine.  While it can be argued (and is currently being argued by “social search” engines like Glue and Hunch) that an algorithm isn’t as good at knowing what a human wants as much as a human (and therefore a more human approach to search results based on preferences rather than rankings), the more humanistic engines to date include Amazon, Netflix, and the aforementioned Glue and Hunch can often still be wrong.  And the other alternatives that try to out-algorithm the algorithm — I’m thinking of Wolfram|Alpha and search engines that use Wolfram|Alpha to enhance their results — leave much to be desired in terms of understanding what you’re asking.  The fact is that Google has become so ubiquitous over the last 10 years that the word is synonymous for “search” and no matter how catchy the next upstart search engine’s name is (Bing!), there’s very little hope of anything overtaking it.  Ever.  (At least in this country.)

Step 2: Build Trust

If I asked you to give me your name, picture, address, credit card number, date of birth, a list of all your friends with their email addresses and phone numbers, and another list of every topic you’ve ever been interested in, ever, you wouldn’t just think I was a crazy stalker; you would know it.  Yet, this is precisely the same information we give to Google by using their services.  Even if we haven’t directly given Google all of that information, Google (as well as other online services) is able to pull that information together based on your public profiles on social networking sites.  We hand over an astounding amount of information to Google and other corporations all in the name of “making our lives easier.”  Has your life gotten easier since using Google?

Google builds trust by speaking publicly about open standards (although they’re not always in favor of open software — it’s been rumored for a few years that internally they’re using a modified version of Linux that they are not privy to sharing with the rest of the world) and by giving stuff away for free (although not always under open source licenses).  But like a skilled magician (or a skilled con artist), while we’re all staring at the shiny free goodies, their other hand is reaching around for our wallet.

Google deals in information.  They deal in wants and desires.  Specifically, they deal with terabytes of information every day about what we want, what we think, what we’re looking for, what we need.  Their ad system is based on selling shares in concepts against a hypothesized value for said idea.  They take a keyword, say “licorice”, and determine a price based on how much they think people are going to be wanting licorice on any given day.  And these prices aren’t static — they’re constantly in flux.  In Wired interviews past, they’ve told journalists that things like seasons, weather, economic and social conditions color what we search for.  With that level of insight into the American psyche, it’s unsurprising that they could be able to anticipate just what we needed to hear to trust them with all our personal information.

Step Three: Go for the kill

Once a person or organization has gotten this far, gotten you to trust them, you will follow them to the end of the world and back without much thought.  After all, they’ve established themselves in the past, they’ve proven their worth, why doubt now?  You may trust them even while you notice, out of the corner of your eye, the hand reaching for your wallet — it couldn’t possibly be what you think it is, you must be imagining it.  This is the crucial point we are at as Americans, as citizens of the autonomous sovereignty of the Internet, in our relationship with Google.  We trust them.  We believe they have our best interests at heart and we are willing to give up our own individual voices and allow them to speak for us.

Isn’t this what governments were for?  Isn’t this what politicians were for?  And aren’t governments and politicians supposed to protect us from businesses that grow so large as to threaten their own regulating authority?

The con I’ve seen using the same tactics (and possibly these steps are common to all forms of advertising or marketing) was a cheap ploy to sell copies of an overpriced ebook that over-promised (make hundreds of dollars a day, gain thousands of followers a week, a huge network pushing floods of traffic to your site) and under-delivered.  I wasn’t alone when I found myself  not being able to match the phenomenal success I should have had and wondering what I was doing wrong.  I didn’t buy into the scam because I believed the hype (I didn’t), rather, because the author had made good on steps one and two; he established credibility by keeping a popular, high ranking blog about making money blogging that, while never revealing any actual useful advice on how to make money blogging, always carried with it the promise that the secret was just around the corner; and he built trust by exposing several scams related to his own ebook (in fact, it could be argued that his ebook was a rewrite of the scams he had exposed).  Surely his method was different than the ones he exposed as obvious scams.  What this particular con has in common with Google is good copy: both are very good at weaving their way around the truth, telling a believable lie — one laced with truth — and taking full advantage of the successes won from established credibility and trust.  Once you’ve scored on those two counts, you can do almost anything.

Don’t be Google: A battle-cry for Net Neutrality

By now you should have heard about the closed-door talks that Google isn’t having with Verizon that absolutely wouldn’t destroy Net Neutrality as we’ve known it (and Google has argued for it) for the last several years.

Here’s the rundown:

The New York Times published an article that Google and Verizon were nearing an agreement in talks that would create a tiered structure for content providers such that certain types of content providers would get faster speeds than others.  In the current model of the internet, everyone works with what we’ve got, and any speed issues are solely on how much you as a consumer are willing or able to pay.  As everyone hooks up to broadband and Google is fighting for nationwide fiber-optic, speed differences will be dependent upon the servers of the content providers for the first time, rather than how slow or fast your modem is (remember 28.8k?).

Basically, this would give some content providers (i.e. anyone who’s worked out a special deal with Google, or content providers that Google already owns, like YouTube) fast-lane speeds whereas everyone else (say, a video startup in someone’s garage to compete with YouTube, Vimeo, Hulu, etc) would be stuck behind grandma.

Essentially, this means that if you are friends with Google (or Verizon), you get to be in the cool kids club.  If not, you can eat the cool kids’ dust.

Huffington Post published a great editorial yesterday that highlighted some of Google’s flip-flops in publicly-expressed attitudes toward Net Neutrality.  In particular this:

Traffic prioritization allows the broadband provider to become an unwanted gatekeeper in the middle of the Internet. Because of the market power they currently employ, broadband providers have the technical ability and economic incentives to determine which packets of Internet traffic get delivered to which consumers under what conditions. The end result is that the Internet becomes shaped in ways that serve the interests of the broadband providers, and not consumers or innovative Web entrepreneurs.

has turned into this:

People get confused about Net neutrality. I want to make sure that everybody understands what we mean about it. What we mean is that if you have one data type, like video, you don’t discriminate against one person’s video in favor of another. It’s OK to discriminate across different types…There is general agreement with Verizon and Google on this issue.

Seriously, Google?  That’s pretty much the exact opposite of what you’ve been saying and arguing for.

Net Neutrality, it seems, is only worth fighting for when it’s profitable.  As soon as the time comes when Net Neutrality (or, you know, anything at all) no longer becomes profitable, Google seems to think it’s perfectly okay to switch gears with a complete reversal.  Google is no longer the scrappy underdog we all rooted for in the dotcom boom, when Microsoft was evil (and made no claims otherwise).  Google has grown to a mammoth internet behemouth able to wield huge swaths of internet real estate and tear down empires with their mighty power.  While we weren’t looking, they’ve hidden behind their “don’t be evil” slogan and made us okay with taking all our information (it’s okay because it makes search results more accurate and personalized), giving up our privacy (we don’t mind as long as we can find where we’re going), and handing over all our data to someone else (it’s so much more convenient to store our data online and access it from anywhere).  Now, they’re crowning themselves Kings of the Internet, able to rule over all that they see (which is everything), and determine what content providers or what types of content deserve special treatment and what doesn’t.  Not only that, but they’ve got us in a vice grip; like junkies, we’re addicted to their services because they work so damn well.  And Google can’t be all bad when all their applications are free (despite the millions of dollars they make shoving ads in your face).  I’d say I’m switching to Bing but even Bing can’t deliver search results that are as accurate to what I’m looking for as Google.

There’s a new meme in town.  No longer shall we say “don’t be evil”; henceforth the battle cry will be “Don’t be Google.”