Fail and You When you move to San Francisco, you have six weeks from the date you sign the lease on your four-thousand-dollar-a-month, two-bedroom apartment to adopt a cause. All San Franciscans need something to keep themselves occupied while their iPhones charge or their lattes are made.
A wide variety of causes are available: anti-war, anti-meat, anti-religion, and anti-establishment. Any of these will satisfy the requirement, but they are all fairly involved. For many young white people moving to the city to chase venture capital, network neutrality is a good choice. It's a shrink-wrapped, batteries-included, no-money-down way to have an opinion about something, and it doesn't come with the subtle baggage of developed nations' guilt. It doesn't require rallies or protests. All you need to support this cause is a blog and an e-mail address.
Like any hands-off issue, Google has an opinion on the matter. Network neutrality is necessary to keep the service providers from charging us up the ass. We want to run our business how we please, but you should force the internet service providers to run their business how we please. It's just really convenient for us that way. Please, government, step in and save us.
Like the robotic engineers it employs, Google has laid out a set of terse rules, defining what it considers acceptable and unacceptable, saying that if network neutrality wasn't enforced, ISPs would discriminate against web applications. Discrimination. Racism. Eugenics. It's practically a regression to slavery. Right. I don't know how it sounds to you, but to me, it's an awful lot like whining, "But MOMMY, it's not FAIR!”
It's convenient for Google to support this cause because it affects their bottom line. If ISPs were allowed to charge Google a premium to deliver their array of text ads, the magic money machine might stall out. If business interests are aligned with supporting net neutrality, are they really agreeing with it on a philosophical level, that all packets were created equally, endowed by their creators with certain unalienable rights: routing, delivery, and avoidance of throttling? Or is it simpler than that, where network neutrality is a good thing because it keeps the margins high?
For the Google believers, it's a good-versus-evil issue, which is why we saw such a viciously passive-aggressive response to the recent Wall Street Journal piece explaining how Google is attempting to pay for preferential treatment of its traffic. See, nobody who truly follows the gospel will ever come out and say "You're a fuckin' moron." They prefer to "correct the inaccuracies" of "confused" writers. Simple. Sterile. Non-confrontational. To imply that a person is doing something wrong by some fault of his own just isn't Googley. There must have been a miscommunication. He must have had a troubled childhood. Or a disease. You don't want to angry up the blood.
WSJ exposed that Google was hoping to spend money on a practice called "edge caching," where they host content at ISP co-location facilities to move YouTube videos of teenagers getting kicked in the balls closer to the target audience. This makes the content load faster, and the network more efficient. Nut-kickery on demand. Fuck me, I love this country.
What followed was an open-debate-classroom style pedantic argument about whether or not edge caching violates the tenets of network neutrality. Yes, it's evil because a multi-billion dollar corporation with vast resources is flexing its capital to make its content move faster. No, it's not evil because the ISPs aren't forcing it, and they aren't technically discriminating against packets. Whether or not Google has crossed the line is debatable, but if it's a philosophical issue of packet equality, Google should be nowhere near the line. If anything, Google should set up edge caching facilities as a service they can give away for free to developers, provided they support their apps with AdSense.
Google's official response to the Journal was five hundred words of chlorinated lecture. No, it's cool because we are relieving network congestion. Don't worry, because this caching doesn't discriminate. Fear not, our agreements are non-exclusive – any other company with enough money could do the same thing we are. All is well. Please enjoy this complimentary Valium. We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.
Google is doing an awful lot of work to defend this position. Edge caching doesn't forcibly discriminate packets based on protocol or sender, but at a higher level, it discriminates services from one another. Any way you read this, it's a case of a large multinational corporation paying for better treatment of its content. They aren't being forced, but they're doing it anyway. The bitch of it is, this hurts the case for network neutrality. It shows that a capable corporation can and will pay for preferential treatment, and it won't send them to the poor house.
For Google, it's a good business decision. They pay truck loads of money to deliver YouTube content. Teenagers getting kicked in the balls - that monetizes very poorly. If they can spend the money to move the content closer to the consumers, the amount they save in long-haul bandwidth might bring YouTube closer to profitability. However, Google's business interest in this scheme has run afoul of a philosophical interpretation of network neutrality, showing that they only support it if it supports their bottom line. This is poseur politics at its finest.
So ask yourself: Does "don't be evil" only apply to large values of evil, such as baby-eating and kitten-drowning? Does it not apply to lesser, more profitable ranges of evil like supporting Chinese censorship? Did Google come out against California's Proposition 8, an effort to ban gay marriage, because the company as a whole is so progressive that they see it as a civil rights issue and want to take a stand, or because they have a large constituency of gay employees, enough of them to form a "Gayglers" group internally?
Is Google really the Jesus of the internet, or is it simply easier to build a brand when people view you as altruistic? If you've ever cut yourself with Occam's Razor, you know how much that sucker will bleed. ®
Ted Dziuba is a co-founder at Milo.com You can read his regular Reg column, Fail and You, every other Monday.