Peer to Peer Magazine

June 2011

The quarterly publication of the International Legal Technology Association

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Page 119 of 143

core business. States the author: “We are not Google’s customers: we are its product.” • The world. When governments such as those of Iran and China take measures to block or control access to Google services, when Google-owned technologies such as Gmail, Blogger, and YouTube supply the medium of communication for social uprisings and political upheaval, and when Google Maps and Google Street View allow us to roam the boulevards of Amsterdam and peer into the byways of Acapulco as freely as our acquaintances can scope out our home address from the sky and from the curb, Google has become a platform for real-world action. Yet the romance of global interconnectedness is not the Googlized reality; rather, says Vaidhyanathan, “Google has increased the ‘tribalization’ of the Web” through customizing our view of cyberspace. By showing us results that are most consistent with our known interests, it reinforces what we already know and think by finding us more of the same and by helping us connect with others who agree with us. • Knowledge. The Googlization of knowledge encompasses not only all Web content and accessible databases and, potentially, the entire corpus of human intellectual products embodied in print, but also the process of knowledge acquisition itself: education and scholarship. The author writes: “[Google’s] process of collecting, ranking, linking and displaying knowledge determines what we consider to be good, true, valuable and relevant. The stakes could not be higher.” The controversial Google Books project to scan and index millions of books from university and public libraries and make them Internet-accessible, which engendered a class-action lawsuit on behalf of authors of copyright-protected works, has met a major obstacle since the publication of this book. However, the court’s rejection of Google’s offer of settlement only closes one chapter; it does not end the story. The Human Knowledge Project Given Google’s power to order our perception of the world, as well as to turn our very attention into a revenue-producing commodity, we cannot avoid the question of whether we should leave such an entity to regulate itself. Vaidhyanathan’s clear answer is no: that is too much to entrust to a business with an unpredictable future, one that “once . . . specialized in delivering information to satiate curiosity [but now] does so to facilitate consumption.” He concludes the book with a call for the launching of a Human Knowledge Project, with no other mission than Google’s own: “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible.” The difference is that its design would be an expression of public will rather than a private venture for profit, modeled on the Human Genome Project and rooted in the existing network of public libraries worldwide. While encouraging private interests — Google among them — to participate in the design and execution of the system, it would not aim to enrich any. Its impetus must be not commercial but political, and it must be soundly built for success. Nothing less than the future of knowledge is at stake. Possible Legal Implications The author’s many references to legal implications as he develops his arguments point to four principal ways in which professionals in the legal industry may be affected by the Googlization of everything: • Search. If you employ Google as a research tool, your results are colored by the factors that Google uses to influence outcomes. • Advertising. If Google-based services are a conduit for activities in your life, such as email, leisure, travel, shopping, and online information and entertainment, you become a target of the highly focused advertising by which Google makes its profits. • Litigation. The amount of legal activity generated by Google- related cases can only increase as issues continue to arise in such diverse arenas as privacy, copyright, human rights, cross- subsidization, antitrust law, international law and Internet law. • Legislation. Lawmakers will respond to calls for new legislation to define, regulate and control, and support or promote national and international activities with respect to the Internet and the human and digital beings that operate within its boundless realm. A fifth possibility, should the Human Knowledge Project come to pass, is to contribute to the forging of “a vision and a plan for a just and effective global information ecosystem,” one that requires a legal infrastructure, a set of global policies, a set of protocols or norms for quality of information, agreements on technical standards, and a system of global governance. By gaining control of the future of knowledge, we can choose the lens through which our species sees the world. ILTA Meredy Amyx is a writer and editor whose instinctive suspicion of the allure of digital technology has not been allayed by decades of working in high-tech in the heart of Silicon Valley. Meredy buys books, subscribes to magazines and takes a home-delivered newspaper, all of which, in a pinch, she can read without benefit of electricity. Nevertheless, she spends the bulk of every day at the computer and uses Google constantly for research. She can be reached at Peer to Peer the quarterly magazine of ILTA 121

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