Put down the NOHO, victorious SOPA protestors – the mothership needs your help once again. Google needs to mount a SOPA-like campaign against European privacy protection proposals, says a US academic. It's for the greater good, apparently.
Jane Yakowitz, a visiting professor of law at Brooklyn Law School, writes that unregulated privacy invasion by web companies is for the greater good, and calls the EU proposals, including the 'right to be forgotten', as "a misguided attack on the information economy".
We already know Google hates the privacy proposals – but we didn't think it would try and enlist netizens. This is what Yakowitz recommends. What Google needs to do, she writes, is rally the kind of furious protest that saw Wikipedia go dark - and a Scottish farm certification agency deluged with nasty emails. She writes:
"Google and other major internet companies might want to start coordinating a protest similar to the effective campaign we saw here in the states in response to SOPA," she urges. What would that look like?
"If Google makes every person with the first name 'John' ungoogleable for a day, and if online retailers refuse to access cookie data for a day, and if content providers double the amount of advertising for a day, pressure can build before the Directive comes to a vote."
It may sound quite crackers - the sort of thing you'd expect from an American legal academic - but Yakowitz is writing on the website of the Berkman Center. Berkman is the eccentric but influential New Age think-tank attached to Harvard Law School, and it receives substantial donations from Google. Berkmanites have risen to important policy roles both in Silicon Valley and in the Obama administration. Berkman emeritus fellow Andrew McLaughlin moved from a role as head of public policy for Google to become deputy CTO for Obama. (See "Obama administration joins Google for details of other, and Google's subtle, RAND-like influence on the sphere of ideas).
(If you want to know just why web companies want your personal data so rapaciously - this bit of context may be helpful. Silicon Valley's deeply conservative web companies have proved spectacularly inept at raising revenue from other means such as creating partnerships, building platforms, doing bundling deals, and netting transactional revenue. Cannot compute! So data mining is the only club they have in their golf bag. And they're not going to let anyone take it away.)
In short, we may see a kite struggling into the air. Do you think it will fly?
There are many interesting implications to Yakowitz's argument, to which she seems oblivious. One is the denuded sense of the individual that's presented back to us by web companies. This matters to many of us, rather more than the financial health of large internet corporations matters to us.
Last week, Google turned the rage of the internet mob to its advantage, against legislation proposed by media companies. Yakowitz now urges it to turn this rage against ourselves. Not only is this a little presumptuous – she must think Google can turn the fury of the crowd on and off like a tap – she either forgets (or doesn't know) why people are concerned about privacy in the first place. ®