Facebook, Apple, Hollywood threaten ‘open Internet’ – Google co-founder

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Facebook and Apple are the Web’s "restrictive" walled gardens, according to Google co-founder Sergey Brin. He claims both firms, along with Hollywood, anti-piracy advocates and government censors threaten the open Internet, stifling innovation.

­Brin is now more worried than he was in the past, he told The Guardian, because "very powerful forces have lined up against the open Internet on all sides and around the world."

He considered tech giants like Facebook and Apple to be among those forces – they maintain more strict control over what can be done on their technology platforms, and they control access to their users.

"You have to play by their rules, which are really restrictive. 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. Once you get too many rules, that will stifle innovation."

He went as far as to say that Google would never have been launched if Facebook were dominant.

However, it seems the criticism is not without good reason – Brin and his partner Larry Page would like to make all the information inside Facebook and Apple apps accessible to Google's search engine.

Moreover, Google’s attempt at social networking, Google+, has way fewer users than the world’s beloved Facebook. The latter has signed up half of Americans with computer access – and more than 800 million members worldwide.  And Facebook only continues to grow in momentum – bear in mind its recent purchase of the mobile photo-sharing app, Instagram.

Brin also complained that Facebook is making it difficult for users to move their data to other services, presumably Google+.

"Facebook has been sucking down Gmail contacts for many years," he said.

As for the Apple smartphone apps, controlled by the company, they also threaten the openness of the Internet.

“There's a lot to be lost," he said. "For example, all the information in apps – that data is not crawlable by Web crawlers. You can't search it."

At the same time, Apple is one of Google’s main competitors in the smartphone and tablet segments. 

­Genie back in the bottle?

­Repressive governments, especially China, Saudi Arabia and Iran, which are trying to censor and restrict use of the Internet, also violate the Internet’s basic principles – openness and universal access, Brin says.  

Brin said that some five years ago he did not believe China or any other country could effectively restrict the Internet for long, but now he sees he was wrong.

"I thought there was no way to put the genie back in the bottle, but now it seems in certain areas the genie has been put back in the bottle," he said.

Brin also commented on the SOPA and PIPA intellectual property protection bills, saying these measures would have led to the US using the same approach it criticized China and Iran for using.

He said that by lobbying for legislation to block sites offering pirated material, Hollywood is "shooting itself in the foot, or maybe worse than in the foot."

­Changing course

­On Friday Brin published a statement on his Google+ page correcting some of the statements made during his Sunday interview.

He took back some of his critical remarks, saying that although the article was “good” some of his thoughts were “distorted.”

Brin clarified by saying that although digital ecosystems are not as open as the web itself he certainly does not think that this issue can be compared with government-based censorship.

He even praised Facebook and Apple further in his post.

“Moreover, I have much admiration for two of the companies we discussed – Apple and Facebook. I have always admired Apple’s products. In fact, I am writing this post on an iMac and using an Apple keyboard I have cherished for the past seven years.”

Brin reiterated that one of his main concerns is the “openness” of the Internet and urged people not to “take a free and open Internet for granted” because “to the extent that the free flow of information threatens the powerful, those in power will seek to suppress it.”