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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Why are they protesting Google?

I've known and used Google even before it was a corporation, so when I heard they were going to protest Google in Venice, I went just to see what it was all about.

Google was started by a couple of guys at Stanford who had the lofty goal of making all of humanity's knowledge available to all of humanity. In the 16 years since they started, they have come incredibly close to fulfilling that goal.

At the protest, I was turned off early by what appear to be harassment of two black, female Google security guards that obviously had no clue that this protest would be happening by the leaders of this group of ~50 demonstrators. After Mark Lipman finished his argument with the security guards, he went on to complain that Google provides "no jobs and no opportunities for the poorest in our community, who need it the most."

It seems that Google is to be blamed for "gentrifying our community." Apparently they pay their employees too much. If they moved a sweetshop to Venice would that satisfy this group?

True enough, Google requires mainly highly-skilled employees. The future requires mainly highly skilled employees. Have these protesters investigated the many ways Google has made it relatively easy to gain those skills, even in some of the lowest income communities in the world?

And BTW, Google has a strong history of hiring from their community, the Open Source community. When I was president of Linux User, Los Angeles [LULA] they would regularly recruit through me because they believe in hiring first those who had contributed to this community.

In 2004, when Google was in Santa Monica, near where the anti-war movement was protesting Bush at SM airport, the Google office practically emptied out to join the protest. Afterwards, a Google employee that had come from LULA invited me in for free sodas and a tour.

Most people use the Internet everyday. Few have a deep understanding of how it was built and by who.

Speaking of Google employees, everybody knows of (1) Larry Page, (2) Eric E. Schmidt and (3) Sergey Brin. How many know of David C. Drummond, a black man who joined Google 11 years ago and is number 5 in their management team. I mention this so you don't think they just hire black people for "lowest income" jobs.

After I returned from the Google protest, I watched an Al Jazeera report on Google's latest project to fulfill their mission: Solar powered WiFi access points lofted high with hot air balloons. Google sees it as a way to extend Internet access to the least connected and poorest people in the world.

One of the demands of the protest was that Google "give back" to the Venice community. The day before the protest, some Google engineers were giving a programming class for youth at the Abbot-Kinney library. I didn't hear anybody at the rally mention that. Did they even know about it?

Even before Google moved to Venice, I was told, on the q-t, by the person delivering food to homeless people in Venice, that Google was funding the regular food drops.

Last year, Google came in at #1 in CNN/Money/Fortune list of "100 Best Companies to Work For," so obviously they should not be welcomed to Venice. Do these protesters know that all Google employees can spend 20% of their time, that's one day in five, on personal projects? How many corporations do that?

That's how Google engineers, with official Google backing, were able to build the first Speech-to-Tweet system when Mubarak tried to shut down the Internet in Egypt during the revolution. Google, working with Twitter, made sure that anybody with access to a land-line could still tell the world what was happening in Egypt. They did the same thing when Qaddafi tried to shut down the Internet in Libya. I know of no US corporation that did as much for the democratic movement in MENA.

In Nov-Dec 2010, when the first indications of what would be called the Arab Spring were developing, Google paid schools in Cairo to help improve Google Translates Arabic. That would prove extremely important in the coming months. I personally know of at least one use that may have saved lives, and saved the day, in Tahrir Square. Likewise, they rushed to improve their Farsi when people were in the streets in Iran, 2009.

"We feel that launching Persian is particularly important now, given ongoing events in Iran" said Google principal scientist Franz Och in a statement on Goolge's Official Blog.

And remember Wael Ghonim, the Google employee that played a leading role in the Egyptian uprising? After Wael Ghonim was released from the custody of Mubarak's thugs, he said he would like to return to work at Google if he was not fired. Outgoing Google CEO Eric Schmidt tweeted back "We're incredibly proud of you, @Ghonim, & of course will welcome you back when you're ready."

Google started out as an Open Source project. Like many successful Open Source & Free Software projects, it had to become a corporation to accomplish its mission. That's just the way the world works now.

But even though Google has become a giant corporation, I think I can accurately paraphrase Churchill by saying "Never before has a corporation done so much for so many for so little cost to the user."

I first discovered Google at the 1998 Linux Expo in North Carolina. They were just a Linux search engine working out of a garage then. They were, and are, a member in good standing of the Linux, Open Source or Free Software community.

True to the Free Software creed, they operate on a very different intellectual property model than all the other corporation in the world that are not part of that community.

Did those protesters even know that Google doesn't own Android? True Google has contributed heavily to Android development, but the software remains under a GPL or "copy-left" licensing. [Apache Software License, 2.0] Anybody can build an Android device without paying Google a single dime. Just try that with Iphone software. There is a big difference.

They say charity begins at home, but home for Google is not Venice, in spite the big building here that they have taken over. Google is a citizen of the world and home is the Free Software movement that spawned it. So if you want to look for Google's charitable side, you should look at all that they have done for Free Software. First, they continue to make most of the software they develop freely available under a GPL like license, then there are grant programs like the "Summer of Code"
Google Summer of Code is a global program that offers post-secondary student developers ages 18 and older stipends to write code for various open source software projects. We have worked with open source, free software, and technology-related groups to identify and fund projects over a three month period. Since its inception in 2005, the program has brought together over 6,000 successful student participants and over 3,000 mentors from over 100 countries worldwide, all for the love of code.
If you use the Internet, a Droid phone, or many other Internet appliance, you benefit from code paid for by Google and made available for free. Microsoft only does that by way of exception, and then only because they have to compete with the Open Source Community.

Much of what we know about Internet censorship in China is because Google very publicly fought it. All the others, Microsoft, AOL, Yahoo went along with the Chinese program without so much as a mummer of public protest.

It was much the same when Bush started demanding access to people's search records in 2006. Again, all the other search engines went along with the program. It was only when Google made clear they were going to fight it that those plans were abandoned.

Google has also taken a strong position in fighting bogus claims of copyright infringement and in support of the "fair use" exception to the copyright laws. For that reason my Vietnam:American Holocaust remains up on YouTube [434,929 views] even as it was removed from Facebook because they don't recognize fair use. When Google received a copyright infringement claim about one piece of music I used, they didn't take down this very valuable anti-war film, instead they put a link to where viewers could buy the song.

The Open Source movement is a revolutionary movement, I call it communist software. Oddly enough it was through my connections to this movement, rather than the Left, that first alerted me to the rising "Arab Spring" before anyone else in the LA Left.

Obviously, I have a long association with this movement, and with the most significant corporation spawned by that movement, Google. That's why I think Google is the best corporation in the world and that's why I come to its defense.

Since this protest has adopted as its slogan "Google: We're Watching You!," I have to assume they have seen everything I have related above. What I can't figure out is why, of all the corrupt corporations in the world, they choose to target Google.

Personally, my protest time will continue to be focused on Syria, where an uncaring world is letting 200 people a day be slaughtered by their government, with the exception of occasional flurries into other areas, like this one.

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