NNSquad - Network Neutrality Squad

NNSquad Home Page

NNSquad Mailing List Information


[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

[ NNSquad ] Superstorm Sandy, Google, France, and Saving the Freedom to Link

      Superstorm Sandy, Google, France, and Saving the Freedom to Link


Even before the massive storm named Sandy battered the northeast U.S.
last night, I was already planning a posting about the "link war" now
brewing around the world.

A few days ago, newspapers in Brazil pulled out of Google News,
claiming they wanted compensation for the indexing of their freely
available public Web sites.

And in France, the government is directly threatening Google with laws
that would require news indexing payments to public, freely available
media sites in that country.

I had planned to write in detail of the value these newspaper and
other sites receive from people being able to find relevant articles
via services like Google News, of the terrible slippery slope
engendered by the entire concept of "pay to link" regimes, and of how
the major damage from such concepts would ultimately be to vast
numbers of small sites as a twisted "you can't link to my public pages
unless you pay me" sort of mindset took hold.

But as we look at the aftermath of devastation from Sandy, and our
hearts go out to its victims, we're faced with another truth regarding
the freedom to link.

Information saves lives.

As the storm spread inland with punishing winds, rain, and flooding,
people around the world were using news oriented search services to
stay abreast of rapidly developing events, including evacuation plans
and other emergency information -- not only for the protection of
their loved ones in the immediate area, but for people elsewhere to
try learn what was happening to their friends and families in the
disaster zone.

The immense importance of these kinds of search services come into
play during all manner of events that can suddenly and dramatically
impact large numbers of people.  So it is impossible to honestly
justify making it more difficult to find these news stories and
related information on publicly available websites.

Yet, this is exactly the likely outcome of the "pay to link" concept
being promulgated by Brazil, France, and others around the world.  It
is an abomination that would inevitably spread from news search to
other forms of search, and throughout the Web to other linking,
including by informational and educational websites at all levels.

This is a fundamental threat to the most basic concept of the Web --
the ability and right to index and/or freely link with context to the
pages of other sites that are publicly available.

If sites -- newspaper sites or otherwise -- choose not to be indexed,
the "robots.txt" control protocol has long been available for their

If these sites choose to put their contents behind paywalls and charge
the public for access to their materials, that is certainly a choice
they are free to make.

But if sites are offering pages for free public viewing, it is
unconscionable for them to act in ways that will inevitably constrict
and eventually block the ability of the public to find that content
through search engines -- the very mechanisms whose creators devote
enormous resources toward organizing the seeming chaos of the Web in
ways that best serve the needs of the global community at large.

This is much bigger than the issue of French newspaper sites wanting
to charge Google for indexing content that everyone else can read for
free.  It's about keeping the very concept of free linking to public
materials alive and well.  It's about making sure that people can find
and access important information in times of need, whether a personal
crisis or a regional disaster.

Nor should it take a disaster of Sandy's scope to remind us that
access to information, and crucially, being able to find the public
information we're looking for -- especially on the Internet in the
21st century -- are not luxuries to be held hostage, but rather key to
the survival of individuals and even entire communities.

When we save the freedom to link on the Web, we are literally acting
to save our families, our friends, our communities, and ourselves.

All the best to everyone affected by Sandy.  Take care.

Lauren Weinstein (lauren@vortex.com): http://www.vortex.com/lauren 
Co-Founder: People For Internet Responsibility: http://www.pfir.org/pfir-info
 - Network Neutrality Squad: http://www.nnsquad.org 
 - PRIVACY Forum: http://www.vortex.com/privacy-info
 - Data Wisdom Explorers League: http://www.dwel.org
 - Global Coalition for Transparent Internet Performance: http://www.gctip.org
Member: ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy
Lauren's Blog: http://lauren.vortex.com
Google+: http://vortex.com/g+lauren / Twitter: http://vortex.com/t-lauren 
Tel: +1 (818) 225-2800 / Skype: vortex.com
nnsquad mailing list