Google’s Big Tent
I went to Google’s Big Tent event today. It’s essentially a conference following on from the far more headline-grabbing Google Zeitgeist, that focuses on “the big issues facing the Internet today”. This year, it was organised in partnership with Privacy International and the Index on Censorship. There was a variety of speakers, including Eric “We view everything as a ranking problem” Schmidt, Jeremy “I’ll ignore the question you actually asked and, instead, answer the question I wish you’d asked” Hunt MP and Wael Ghonim, who unwittingly became one of the faces of the Egyptian uprising after being arrested in Tahrir Square, and held for 11 days.
It was an interesting change of pace from the commercial world I normally inhabit and gave me a lot of food for thought. Some of my takeaways were:
- Despite claims that legislating for online privacy would stifle innovation, nobody could actually cite an example of this happening. Ever.
- Privacy International’s Simon Davies pointed out that existing laws to protect people’s privacy (e.g. the Data Protection Act) are not being implemented anywhere near rigorously enough.
- “I did not want to assume a leadership role… [I believe that] We should always trust the wisdom of the crowds.” – Wael Ghonim speaking about his role in the Egyptian uprising.
- “We voted with our feet, we moved to Hong Kong. We were unwilling to be subjected to the laws of mainland China.” – Eric Schmidt, speaking about the perils of operating in countries with less-than-sparkling human rights records.
- Mr Schmidt also described a French law requiring that passwords be stored in cleartext as “foolish”.
- Google is building a dashboard to let people see all the information Google holds about them.
- Jeremy hunt’s two big predictions for the Internet in the UK: The Need for Speed and Must be Mobile. He spoke about the potential need for the government to get involved in ensuring the roll-out of high-speed broadband, so that the UK could reap the same benefits that countries like South Korea have.
- Google’s David Drummond pointed out that the more the West restricts free speech, the more repressive regimes will use that fact to justify their actions.
- UNOSAT’s Satellite Sentinel Project uses satellite imagery from commercial satellites to monitor places like the Sudan for signs of conflict, then leverages the high profile of celebrities like George Clooney to publicise the fact that atrocities are happening.
- Google’s Jared Cohen (formerly of the US State Department) averred that the rapid, viral spread of the YouTube video depicting the murder of Iranian protester Neda Soltan directly influenced Barack Obama.