Google's coup: The internet's first rule book

With love from Brussels


The regulator's rule book for deciding what is permissible on today's roads is very thick indeed. The content, behaviour and performance of "stuff on roads" is massive, and grows by the day. Try hot-rodding your lawnmower – or deciding that on Thursdays, you will only make left turns, and see how far you get.

By contrast, the regulator's rule book for deciding what is permissible on the internet - its content, behaviour and performance - couldn't be simpler. There isn't one.

And that’s the case for most countries in the world. Of course, there are established state laws on business, copyright, and defamation that have been extended to the internet, but that’s not the same thing. So the evolution of the technology is the consequence of the private agreements we enter into, between ourselves and the network operator, as the consenting adults we are.

So today’s internet is an anarchy, where users can drive what they like. And despite the fact that bad, anti-social applications can run riot - and they do - people seem to like it this way. It’s an anarchy which carries the overwhelming consensus of internet users. No one (actually, almost no one) is Marching With Placards demanding that some state agency protect us from ourselves, and write a book of rules specifically for what should be technically permissible.

For almost twenty years, internet engineers have persuaded regulators not to intervene in this network of networks, and phenomenal growth has been the result. Because data revenues boomed, telecoms companies which had initially regarded packet data networking with hostility, preferred to sit back and enjoy the returns.

But that’s changing fast. Two months ago the US regulator, which scrupulously monitors public radio for profanity, and which spent months investigating a glimpse of Janet Jackson’s nipples, decided it needed to start writing technical mandates. And so off it went.

Unnoticed by almost everyone, so did the EU.

"It’s the revenge of the unemployed Telecomms Regulator”, one seasoned observer in Brussels told us this week. “The internet really put them out of business. Now they're back."

Here’s a glimpse into the hitherto unreported politics going on in Brussels. The decisions being made are historic: the consequences dictate the future architecture of our networks, with implications worth billions of Euros.

A whole new rule book

The driving force behind the new rules is surprising. It's not the business world's natural bureaucracies, the telecoms companies with their ancestry as state-owned or state-regulated monopolies. It's actually Google.

Next page: What's on the table

Broader topics


Other stories you might like

  • Google has more reasons why it doesn't like antitrust law that affects Google
    It'll ruin Gmail, claims web ads giant

    Google has a fresh list of reasons why it opposes tech antitrust legislation making its way through Congress but, like others who've expressed discontent, the ad giant's complaints leave out mention of portions of the proposed law that address said gripes.

    The law bill in question is S.2992, the Senate version of the American Innovation and Choice Online Act (AICOA), which is closer than ever to getting votes in the House and Senate, which could see it advanced to President Biden's desk.

    AICOA prohibits tech companies above a certain size from favoring their own products and services over their competitors. It applies to businesses considered "critical trading partners," meaning the company controls access to a platform through which business users reach their customers. Google, Apple, Amazon, and Meta in one way or another seemingly fall under the scope of this US legislation. 

    Continue reading
  • Makers of ad blockers and browser privacy extensions fear the end is near
    Overhaul of Chrome add-ons set for January, Google says it's for all our own good

    Special report Seven months from now, assuming all goes as planned, Google Chrome will drop support for its legacy extension platform, known as Manifest v2 (Mv2). This is significant if you use a browser extension to, for instance, filter out certain kinds of content and safeguard your privacy.

    Google's Chrome Web Store is supposed to stop accepting Mv2 extension submissions sometime this month. As of January 2023, Chrome will stop running extensions created using Mv2, with limited exceptions for enterprise versions of Chrome operating under corporate policy. And by June 2023, even enterprise versions of Chrome will prevent Mv2 extensions from running.

    The anticipated result will be fewer extensions and less innovation, according to several extension developers.

    Continue reading
  • UK competition watchdog seeks to make mobile browsers, cloud gaming and payments more competitive
    Investigation could help end WebKit monoculture on iOS devices

    The United Kingdom's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) on Friday said it intends to launch an investigation of Apple's and Google's market power with respect to mobile browsers and cloud gaming, and to take enforcement action against Google for its app store payment practices.

    "When it comes to how people use mobile phones, Apple and Google hold all the cards," said Andrea Coscelli, Chief Executive of the CMA, in a statement. "As good as many of their services and products are, their strong grip on mobile ecosystems allows them to shut out competitors, holding back the British tech sector and limiting choice."

    The decision to open a formal investigation follows the CMA's year-long study of the mobile ecosystem. The competition watchdog's findings have been published in a report that concludes Apple and Google have a duopoly that limits competition.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022