Google co-founder Sergey Brin said in the interview with the Guardian that the principles of openness and universal access that underpinned the creation of the internet three decades ago are under greater threat than ever.
The 38-year-old Brin mentioned that the threat to freedom of the Internet came from a combination of factors, including increasing efforts by governments to control access and communication by their citizens.
According to The Huff Post, Brin said attempts by the entertainment industry to crack down on piracy, and the rise of “restrictive” walled gardens such as Facebook and Apple, which tightly control what software can be released on their platforms, were also leading to greater restrictions on the Internet.
Brin warned there were “very powerful forces that have lined up against the open internet on all sides and around the world”. He continued: “I am more worried than I have been in the past. It’s scary.”
He also said he was concerned by efforts of countries such as China, Saudi Arabia and Iran to censor and restrict use of the Internet.
The billionaire, whose family fled antisemitism in the Soviet Union, was widely regarded as the driving force behind Google’s partial pullout from China in 2010 that followed over concerns about censorship and cyber-attacks.
Brin said five years ago he did not believe that China or any country could effectively restrict the internet for long, but now says he has been proven wrong.
“I thought there was no way to put the genie back in the bottle, but now it seems in certain areas the genie has been put back in the bottle,” he said.
However, despite being concerned by the efforts of countries such as China, Saudi Arabia and Iran to censor and restrict use of the internet, he also warned that the rise of Facebook and Apple, which have their own proprietary platforms and control access to their users, risked stifling innovation and Balkanising the web, reports The Sydney Morning Herald.
“There’s a lot to be lost,” Brin said. “For example all the information in apps – that data is not crawlable by web crawlers. You can’t search it.”
He also criticised Facebook for not making it easy for users to switch their data to other services. “Facebook has been sucking down Gmail contacts for many years,” said Goocle co-founder.
Sergey Brin admitted that some people were worried about the amount of their data that was now in the reach of US authorities because it sits on Google’s servers.
He said the company was periodically forced to hand over data and sometimes prevented by legal restrictions from even notifying users that it had done so.
“We push back a lot; we are able to turn down a lot of these requests. We do everything possible to protect the data. If we could wave a magic wand and not be subject to US law, that would be great. If we could be in some magical jurisdiction that everyone in the world trusted, that would be great … We’re doing it as well as can be done,” said Brin.
Of course, tells CNET, there is some self-interest and sour grapes in Brin’s assessment. He would like to make all the information inside Facebook and Apple apps accessible to Google’s search engine. A more open Web is very good for the world but it’s also very good for Google’s bottom line.
Google’s main effort at social networking, Google+, has a long way to go to catch Facebook, which has more that four times the number of users and continues to gain momentum, including its recent purchase of the mobile photo-sharing app, Instagram.
What is more, Apple, which has ridden it’s proprietary approach to become the most valued company in the world, is Google’s main competitor in the smartphone and tablet arena, another area critical to Google’s business success.