The Web is under attack from “very powerful forces that have lined up against the open internet on all sides and around the world,” says Google co-founder Sergey Brin, in an interview with the Guardian. Principal among those forces are authoritarian governments, like China, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, as well as the purveyors of “walled gardens,” like Facebook and Apple, who control every aspect of their connected ecosystem.
“I am more worried than I have been in the past,” he said. “It’s scary.”
While governmental efforts, like the “Great Firewall of China” and Iran’s impending plan to launch a state-controlled “clean” intranet, rank at the top of Brin’s enemy list, he says that the increasing control over Web content by Facebook and Apple has its own dangers.
“There’s a lot to be lost,” he said. “For example, all the information in apps – that data is not crawlable by web crawlers. You can’t search it.”
“You have to play by their rules, which are really restrictive,” Brin said of Facebook. “The kind of environment that we developed Google in, the reason that we were able to develop a search engine, is the web was so open. Once you get too many rules, that will stifle innovation.”
True as all this may be, the fact that Brin lumps in Facebook and Apple — two of Google’s biggest rivals — with China and Iran is more than a little suspect. Google, after all, makes money by selling ads against the information it crawls from other websites — something that’s impossible with Facebook and, for the most part, iOS apps. Besides, Google has its own ‘walled gardens,’ with Google+ topping the list. Of course, the fact that Google+ posts often appear in Google search results makes the two beasts a slightly different color, but beasts all the same.
While it may be easy to criticize Brin for taking cheap shots at the competition, it doesn’t make his statements any less true. Facebook and Apple do endanger the open Web — or at least create an entirely separate Web that is not open, which some would argue is the same thing. The closed ecosystems of apps really do not abide by open Web principles, as the information they contain are by and large inaccessible to the public at large.
The real truth of the matter is this: The so-called “open Web” is constantly changing. As more and more Web users access the Internet via tablets and smartphones, which are built around closed apps, what we know of as the Web now will effectively disappear, or become indistinguishable from its present self. The challenge for Google — and all other Web companies — is to remain a relevant player throughout the metamorphosis.