State censorship of internet to increase, Google chief warns

 

STATE CENSORSHIP of the internet will become more pervasive as dictators respond to the increasing use of new technologies in pro-democracy protests in the Arab world, Google chairman Eric Schmidt has warned.

Speaking at a summit in Dublin yesterday aimed at tackling violent extremism, Mr Schmidt said Google was proud of the so-called "Arab Spring" protests but insisted the US technology firm was not trying to effect political change itself but rather trying to get information to citizens.

"We are not the cause, nor should we get the credit for these good things. We are simply the tools that enable courageous people to change society," Mr Schmidt said.

Pro-democracy protesters in Tunisia, Egypt and several other Arab states have used Facebook, Youtube (which is now owned by Google) and Twitter to organise demonstrations and co-ordinate their activities. This has provoked authoritarian regimes in the region to introduce or step up censorship in a bid to quell protests.

At the height of pro-democracy protests in Egypt Wael Ghonim, a Google marketing executive, was arrested and kept blindfolded for two weeks by the security forces.

Mr Ghonim had been running a popular pro-democracy Facebook page in his spare time, which attracted more than 400,000 followers. Mr Schmidt said Google did not want to establish moral values but wanted to give people choices of content and information. "There is a limitation [ to what Google can do] and the limitation is when the police arrest our employees and they torture them," he said.

Mr Schmidt said state censorship was likely to increase in the future as technology became more pervasive, more citizens got online and content was localised so it became available in local languages. "If you look at television in most of these countries, television is heavily regulated because the leaders, partial dictators, half dictators or whatever you want to call them, understand the power of television imagery to keep their citizenry in some bucket," he said.

However, Google also came in for criticism at the summit yesterday for failing to take some violent videos off its Youtube website.

Dr Abdul Haqq Baker, a former chairman of the Brixton mosque in London, told more than 200 delegates attending the summit that Youtube videos were being used by gangs in south London to organise "gang hits".

He said the team of Google reviewers, who scrutinise video content after it is uploaded on to the website, often did not have the appropriate local knowledge to remove dangerous content.

Mr Schmidt said Google had regional teams to review videos and inappropriate material was typically flagged by users and removed within minutes of going up on the website.