The battle between Google and government widened considerably this week, with Google seeking to identify evil policies for its users and governments calling Google's own policies evil.
(Google-is-evil logo from Scroogled and TechRepublic's GeekEnd.)
The battle is important for the future of open source, because as governments gain effective power over Internet resources they make it harder for open source collaboration to happen in all spheres.
Sometimes, as in collaboration between criminal gangs or terrorists, that's government's idea. Sometimes, as in the case of an autocratic government seeking to keep knowledge of what it's doing from reaching the world, that idea is also evil.
The governments of 10 western countries called Google evil yesterday because its street view and buzz services lack what they call privacy protections. People are clearly visible on those streets, the governments charge. Google is violating privacy, but also "data protection laws and cultural norms."
Cultural norms? That's one of those phrases that can make a reporter go hmmm. If every government expects to police a global network so as not to offend "cultural norms," defining those norms arbitrarily, do we still have a global network?
Iran's cultural norms may tell bloggers they have no right to write. Burma's may tell users they have no rights at all. Or so the governments of those countries might say.
Are the governments supporting the good of their citizens, or just their own prerogatives? Once the questioning starts, it doesn't end, and Google can keep the questions coming with data.
For example. You want evil disinfected, you say? Sunshine is a great disinfectant.
Google's government requests tool is primitive, it doesn't show numbers from China, but it's a demonstration of what Google can do, when it wants to, to blow the lid off government hypocrisy.
Who is evil enough to demand user data from Google? We are. The United States of America. Also the U.K.. And India. Who's most active in demanding access be removed from Google servers? Germany, India, and the U.S. again.
But also, curiously, Brazil. Brazil leads both categories. Brazil likes to say it's the best friend open source has. Is it really, or is that love a one-way street, where open source gives and Brazil just takes, then beats open source values whenever it gets into its cups?
It's not just Google vs. China any more. This battle between Google and governments is going to continue, on a global scale.