Google Under Attack from Forces of Reaction

 
 
By Michael Hickins  |  Posted 2009-04-07
 
 
 

The forces of reaction are aiming their pitchforks at Google. Like pogroms of the past, entrenched powers faced with uncontrollable change try to forestall the inevitable by egging on disgruntled masses in the wrong direction.

Cause and effect. Rupert Murdoch has been for months voicing displeasure at Google for stealing his intellectual property; mobs turn on Google Street View cars in a pathetic attempt to safeguard their privacy, and voices are risen to accuse Google of abetting child molestation. (In addition to U.S. papers, Murdoch owns The Times of London, the Sunday Times and News of the World.) It's no secret that Murdoch-owned properties march in lock-step with Murdoch's views.

But Google isn't robbing people of their privacy; warrantless wiretapping and the ubiquity of video cameras on street corners, in stores, malls and cell phones has already taken care of that. At least Google gives you an out, whereas try asking the government to stop listening in on your overseas calls.

By the way, Murdoch's anger isn't feigned -- just the reason behind the anger. It's about the money, of course, but more importantly it's about the entire media business. Murdoch comes across as the grand patriarch of journalism because he had enough money to buy the Wall Street Journal, and that makes everyone forget he's the same guy who could never keep the New York Post from hemorrhaging cash -- even before the Internet ever existed. He's the same guy of whom columnist Mike Royko wrote, "no self-respecting fish would want to be wrapped in one of Mr. Murdoch's papers."

Murdoch was never the brightest businessman, just one of the most avaricious, and as is often the case, people mistake greed for smarts. Anyone can look back on their past and see how they could have done things differently, but most of us understand that we can't go back to high school and talk to our secret crush.

But Murdoch thinks because he controls Fox News, the Post and the Wall Street Journal (to name just a few of his media outlets), he can roll back the hands of time to an era he at least imagines he understood.

The AP would also like to reverse the tide of history, but it's been on the wrong side of this argument for more than a year. After watching its membership rebel against insanely rising prices, it first tried to impose illegal restraints on how its content was used. Ignoring the legally settled doctrine of fair use, the AP told publishers it would go after anyone who quoted even a sentence from its copy.

Now, it's targeting Google for aggregating its content. [UPDATE: Google claims the AP isn't targeting it with this statement, but I find it hard to credit that.]

"We can no longer stand by and watch others walk off with our work under misguided legal theories," AP chairman Dean Singleton said at the AP annual meeting, in San Diego.

I love it: fair use is a "misguided legal theory."

Never mind that publishers get more traffic from Google than any other source -- and never mind that they earn ad revenue from that traffic -- it's something that AP doesn't control, so it wants to stop it.

Murdoch's reactionary minions, such as Glenn Beck, are whipping up a populist rage that doesn't have an outlet -- yet. But everyone knows that Google is the biggest company on the planet, and somehow that makes it nefarious. Google Street View is coming and we all know those images steal our souls.

I suppose Google just might decide that Street View isn't worth endangering the lives of the people who drive its cars, in which case the Yahoos (pardon the pun) can give each other high fives and wait until Murdoch and his myrmidons point them to the next bogeyman. But it won't stop Google from aggregating all the world's information, just as it won't save the media industry from its own stupidity. As Albert Einstein once said, "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them."

Rocket Fuel