Category: Google

Now it is official

Last November, we wrote on how US tech firms with support from the US government, were moving into Cuba, occupying the country’s information sector ahead of any political détente with the US and threatening Cuba’s national sovereignty.[1] This week, US President Barack Obama made a three-day state visit to Cuba, the first US president to visit since President Calvin Coolidge in 1928.  On this “historic trip,” the US president didn’t go alone. Along with his family, Obama was accompanied by a phalanx of executives from US firms including Google, Xerox, Airbnb, Priceline Group, PayPal, Xerox, Stripe, and Kiva[2] – as well as nearly 40 members of Congress.[3]

Obama’s visit of course was not a spontaneous occurrence but, rather, a result of long  preparations by the US government and US industries, whose shared aim is to reintegrate Cuba into the US-led global capitalist economy.  Predictably, the president deployed the language of “universal human rights” and “democracy” in his address to the Cuban people[4]; however, the U.S. president actually was there to green-light US capital’s self-interested program.

The U.S. strategy, it is evident, is to exploit the promise of modernizing Cuba’s information and communication infrastructure, in order to re-annex chunks of the country’s economy.  Under the pretence of freeing the flow of information (obligingly symbolized by the superficially defiant Rolling Stones) it is actually U.S. capital that is to be set free, to work its will upon a small country that has stood up against the full measure of US power since 1959.  Obama sought to entice the Cuban people by stating that, “The Internet should be available across the island so that Cubans can connect to the wider world and to one of the greatest engines of growth in human history.”[5]  In reality, these are at most secondary considerations:  Obama was fronting for US business interests.  The US President thus brazenly announced that “Google has a deal to start setting up more WiFi and broadband access on the island.”[6] In actuality, Google is doing more than this; the search giant also is establishing a technology center equipped with glittering new capabilities, where Cubans will be able to gain access to the “free” Internet. Obama thus offered a tantalizing taste of a modernized high-tech US capitalism, hoping that this may go down better than military force ever did to bring Cuba back into the US orbit.

Assuredly, further flashpoints of conflict will need to be addressed.  The US Congress has not given any sign of curtailing the economic blockade of Cuba that was imposed in 1962.  On the other hand, the Cuban government has insisted on an end to the US occupation of Guantanamo – a transgression on national sovereignty that has persisted since the “Spanish”-American War.  We may hope that Cuba’s leaders still possess sufficient bargaining strength to put in place safeguards and restraints against this new attempt at what, in an earlier manifestation, was called “coca-colonization.”

[1] Dan Schiller and ShinJoung Yeo, “Uncharted Territory: Cuba’s information sovereignty & US digital capital,” Information Observatory, November 19, 2015.

[2] Todd Weiss, “More U.S. Companies Line Up to Seek Sales in Cuba After Obama’s Visit,” eWeek, March 23, 2016

[3]An American Invasion,” Economist, March 26, 2016

[4] “Remarks by President Obama to the People of Cuba,” Office of the Press Secretary, March 22, 2016.

[5] ibid.

[6]Google set to expand Wifi, broadband access in Cuba, Obama tells ABC,” Reuter, March 21, 2016

 

Appellate Court Ruling For Google Books: Fair Use, or Anti-Democratic Preemption?

After 11 years of battle between Google — now a unit of the just-named Alphabet conglomerate — and the Authors Guild,[1] a professional organization of published writers, the second US Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that Google’s book project is protected under fair use [paper trail].  Responding to this judgment, the American Library Association (ALA) announced that “Libraries laud appeals court affirmation that mass book digitization by Google is ‘fair use’.”[2] Larry Alford, president of the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) concurred, stating that ”ARL applauds this victory for fair use regarding the Google Books project, which involved partnerships with many of our libraries.”[3]

Is this outcome truly a cause for celebration? For whom is this a victory? What this verdict actually signifies may be understood only by clarifying the nature of the conflict; and analysis needs to go beyond “access,” as if “access” constitutes an absolute virtue – the be-all -and-the-end-all.

Google’s search engine has long been the premier gateway to the Web, granting Google a dominant market position online (around 60+ percent of all computer Web searches). This has enabled Google to seize a disproportionate share of Web advertising. However, Google’s dominance is not guaranteed. Competition to control the Internet has intensified between Google and other Web giants — Amazon, Facebook, and Apple. From Google’s perspective the question of how to maintain its market position could hardly be more vital.

Its superb search technology — its secret algorithm — isn’t enough, in itself, to ensure supremacy.  An additional element is also required. Only by protecting and, if possible, expanding its user-base, to feed streams of data into the company’s means of production — its search algorithm — will Google’s dominance in Web advertising be protected. Expanding its user-base in turn may be accomplished only by introducing, or taking over, services and content with which to draw additional users, and with which to target ads at what the industry calls “most-needed audiences.” Read more