'The Worst Possible Intervention Into Digital Matters by the U.S.'


Google can be seen as an American political tool, argues cyber diplomacy analyst Evgeny Morozov in a new editorial pegged to the announcement of an Iranian national search engine. Furthermore, he indicts many Silicon Valley companies for collaborating with the State Department to turn business matters into political questions. Over the last year or two, Internet companies became American Internet companies.

For example, that oft-noted move by the State Department to reach out to Twitter to keep the service from performing scheduled maintenance during the Iranian street protests of June 2009? Morozov calls it, "the worst possible intervention into digital matters by the U.S. government ever." And he predicts that next year we'll see "all sorts of pushback against the very Silicon Valley companies that were previously thought to be largely unpolitical market leaders." Here's a longer clip from the broadside:

For better or worse, Google chose to join with the U.S. government in politicizing the digital space -- and it's only logical that foreign governments are beginning to see Google's dominance in their search markets as a political -- rather than pure business -- matter. As such, I expect many more plans similar to Iran's to pop up elsewhere. When Washington is leading a crusade for "Internet freedom" and Google is cast as one of its leading warriors, what sane government would be happy with a situation where everything its citizens search for can be data-mined by Google? Especially when the latter is so happy to tout its collaboration with the National Security Agency. Seriously, Google's publicity people sometimes just blow me away: if there was one relationship with the U.S. government they should have kept secret, it was that one. (Somehow, I find it hard to believe that it was NSA who leaked it to the media).

So, here is what we've got. In 2009 it became obvious -- for American diplomats anyway -- that Washington was in a unique position to exploit the fact that so many Silicon Valley companies were uncontested leaders in so many markets and that so much civic and political activism was emerging in those digital spaces. In 2010 American diplomats squandered such opportunities by unnecessarily politicizing this space, alerting their very opponents of the political uses to which the Internet can be put (e.g. making contact with Twitter during the protests in Iran -- which I take to be the worst possible intervention into digital matters by the U.S. government ever).

Read the full story at Net Effect at Foreign Policy.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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