Governments shouldn’t have a monopoly on Internet governance

The beauty of the Internet is that it’s not controlled by any one group. Its governance is bottoms-up—with academics, non-profits, companies and governments all working to improve this technological wonder of the modern world. This model has not only made the Internet very open—a testbed for innovation by anyone, anywhere—it's also prevented vested interests from taking control.

But last week the UN Committee on Science and Technology announced that only governments would be able to sit on a working group set up to examine improvements to the IGF—one of the Internet’s most important discussion forums. This move has been condemned by the Internet Governance Caucus, the Internet Society (ISOC), the International Chamber of Commerce and numerous other organizations—who have published a joint letter (PDF) and launched an online petition to mobilize opposition. Today, I have signed that petition on Google’s behalf because we don’t believe governments should be allowed to grant themselves a monopoly on Internet governance. The current bottoms-up, open approach works—protecting users from vested interests and enabling rapid innovation. Let’s fight to keep it that way.

The Department of Commerce explores privacy

In April the Department of Commerce announced the formation of an Internet Policy Task Force to look at the various issues affecting economic growth and job creation through the Internet. Today, the task force issued its first report, a green paper on the framework that the Commerce Department intends to apply to questions about online privacy.

Like the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which released its own privacy report a couple weeks ago, the Department of Commerce is looking for a fresh approach to privacy and a better way to help consumers understand what happens to data online. In particular, the green paper focuses on the need for all global stakeholders — including companies, advocates, and government — to work together to proactively improve privacy. We strongly support the Commerce Department engaging more actively internationally including the creation of a global framework for privacy to better address international data flows. The report also stresses the importance of preserving and encouraging innovation on the Internet. Additionally, the Department calls for a re-examination of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act — generally known by its acronym, ECPA — which dates back to 1986. We’re on board with that, since the outdated law simply has not kept pace with evolving technologies.

We support the Department of Commerce’s recommendation for privacy to be approached comprehensively and broadly, with a clear focus both on users and innovation on the Internet. This kind of thoughtful approach to a complex issue like privacy shows leadership and expertise, and we look forward to further dialogue with the Department of Commerce, the FTC, and others as we consider the issues that the green paper has raised.

An update on Google Fiber

(Cross posted on the Official Google Blog)

Earlier this year we announced an experiment we hope will help make Internet access better and faster for everyone: to provide a community with ultra high-speed broadband, 100 times faster than what most people have access to today.

This week I joined Google as vice president of Access Services to oversee the Google Fiber team. Over the past several months I’ve been following the progress the team has already made—from experimenting with new fiber deployment technologies here on Google’s campus, to announcing a “beta” network to 850 homes at Stanford—and I’m excited for us to bring our ultra high-speed network to a community.

We had planned to announce our selected community or communities by the end of this year, but the level of interest was incredible—nearly 1,100 communities across the country responded to our announcement—and exceeded our expectations. While we’re moving ahead full steam on this project, we’re not quite ready to make that announcement.

We’re sorry for this delay, but we want to make sure we get this right. To be clear, we’re not re-opening our selection process—we simply need more time to decide than we’d anticipated. Stay tuned for an announcement in early 2011.

Acquisitions and antitrust

As we’ve said before, we understand that as Google grows, we’re going to face more questions about how our business works. We recognize the responsibility we have, and we are always open to hearing ideas about how we can improve.

Washington Post columnist Steve Pearlstein writes today about Google’s acquisitions and antitrust law, and I thought I’d share a few reflections on his article:

All companies make “build vs. buy” decisions. Pearlstein writes that he has no problem with Google growing naturally, but that we shouldn’t be allowed to make acquisitions in new spaces. This isn’t how we -- or most companies -- approach these decisions. Sometimes it’s possible to develop a new product in-house; other times a company decides it can bring a new product to market faster by acquiring another company. Microsoft acquired Powerset in 2008 and then incorporated its search technology into Bing. Amazon acquired Zappos in 2009 instead of developing its own shoe-selling site. The Hart-Scott-Rodino legal process ensures that acquisitions like these aren’t implemented if they threaten competition or consumers, and the process works well.

We’re competing against other companies for acquisitions. Pearlstein expresses concern that Google’s acquisitions preclude the possibility that a company might instead be purchased by Microsoft, Apple, or Facebook. But those companies not only have substantial cash or equity that they use to make acquisitions, they also regularly compete against us and other companies to acquire leading startups. In 2007, Google bought DoubleClick, but then Microsoft spent twice as much for its display ad company aQuantive and Yahoo bought ad exchange Right Media. All mature companies regularly acquire companies to make big bets on new spaces.

Acquisitions are typically good for consumers and the economy. Antitrust law is designed to protect consumers, not competitors, and our acquisitions have created great things for consumers. Our 2004 acquisition of Keyhole led to Google Earth, which for the first time provided free satellite imagery for consumers. Our 2005 acquisition of a small company called Android -- and our investment in the technology that Andy Rubin was developing -- later led to the creation of the Android mobile operating system, which has injected more competition and openness into the smartphone space. For startups, getting acquired is often the path to success (especially given the difficult IPO market), so stopping large companies from making acquisitions would only deprive startups of another potential bidder and investors of a potential return on their invested capital. You can’t be both pro-economic growth and anti-acquisitions.

Courts and regulators recognize efficiencies in mergers into new spaces. They also have approved many deals where the leader in one category acquired the leader in a separate category. That includes Oracle’s acquisition of Siebel, Amazon’s acquisition of Audible, and Adobe’s acquisition of Macromedia. Each company was #1 in its respective field, and each merger was approved.

These aren’t easy issues -- and we don’t envy the government regulators who have to grapple with them! But most observers would agree that the antitrust laws are pretty durable and the courts have done a good job applying the law to new products and technologies. For our part, we’ll continue to make sure that our business practices reflect our commitment to compete fair and square.

Local search: It’s all about the best answers for users

This Sunday the Wall Street Journal published a story about local search that makes a number of assertions about how local search works at Google, so we thought it would be helpful to share our view on these issues.

When people come to Google looking for information about places like restaurants, shoe stores, parks or museums, our goal is to provide them with answers as quickly as possible and presented in a way that’s easy to read and understand. Sometimes the most useful information is a direct link to a business—other times it’s a map or a list of review sites. As Susan and Udi wrote just over a week ago:
Answering users' queries accurately and quickly is our number one goal. Sometimes the best, most relevant answer to a query is our traditional “ten blue links,” and sometimes it is a news article, sports score, stock quote, video, or a map.
When someone searches for a place on Google, we still provide the usual web results linking to great sites; we simply organize those results around places to make it much faster to find what you’re looking for. For example, earlier this year we introduced Place Search to help people make more informed decisions about where to go. Place pages organize results around a particular place to help users find great sources of photos, reviews and essential facts. This makes it much easier to see and compare places and find great sites with local information.

We’ve heard from users and businesses that Place pages are a great way to find local information and reach customers. We’ve also heard from webmasters that Place pages help them reach a broader audience when users click through to learn more.

As Susan and Udi wrote, we built Google for users, not websites. We welcome ongoing dialog with webmasters to help ensure we’re building great products, but at the end of the day, users come first. If we fail our users, competition is just a click away.

Call credits for military families this holiday season

(Cross-posted from the Google Voice Blog)

Keeping in touch with family during the holiday season can be challenging for anyone, but it’s especially difficult for military families with loved ones serving around the country or overseas.

Gmail’s built in video chat and free calls to the U.S. and Canada can help keep friends and family in contact regardless of how far apart they may be. To make staying in touch this holiday season even easier for military families, we’re offering a $10 calling credit to help them reach their loved ones serving abroad.

These international call credits can be used to make calls with Google Voice or from right inside Gmail, and will provide families with roughly 30 minutes of call time to Afghanistan, 60 minutes to Iraq, or hundreds of minutes to many countries in Europe and around the world.

To make this possible, we’ve partnered with Blue Star Families and Sesame Street, two organizations dedicated to supporting service members and their families.

Photo by Sesame Workshop, 2010

To be eligible for $10 calling credits, military family members must:
  1. Be a member of either Blue Star Families or Sesame Street Family Connections — registration is free for all military families
  2. Provide their Gmail address
  3. Enable calling in Gmail and accept the terms of service OR have an existing Google Voice account
  4. Complete this registration form by December 22, 2010

We recognize the sacrifices military family members make when loved ones serve abroad, and we’re proud to help make it a little bit easier for families to stay connected over the holidays.

At this time, Google Voice and calling in Gmail are available in the U.S. only.

Making Copyright Work Better Online

There are more than 1 trillion unique URLs on the web and more than 35 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute. It’s some pretty fantastic stuff - content that makes us think, laugh, and learn new things. Services we couldn’t have imagined ten years ago - iTunes, Netflix, YouTube, and many others - help us access this content and let traditional and emerging creators profit from and share their work with the world.

But along with this new wave of creators come some bad apples who use the Internet to infringe copyright. As the web has grown, we have seen a growing number of issues relating to infringing content. We respond expeditiously to requests to remove such content from our services, and have been improving our procedures over time. But as the web grows, and the number of requests grows with it, we are working to develop new ways to better address the underlying problem.

That’s why today we’re announcing four changes that we’ll be implementing over the next several months:
  • We’ll act on reliable copyright takedown requests within 24 hours. We will build tools to improve the submission process to make it easier for rightsholders to submit DMCA takedown requests for Google products (starting with Blogger and web Search). And for copyright owners who use the tools responsibly, we’ll reduce our average response time to 24 hours or less. At the same time, we’ll improve our “counter-notice” tools for those who believe their content was wrongly removed and enable public searching of takedown requests.
  • We will prevent terms that are closely associated with piracy from appearing in Autocomplete. While it’s hard to know for sure when search terms are being used to find infringing content, we’ll do our best to prevent Autocomplete from displaying the terms most frequently used for that purpose.
  • We will improve our AdSense anti-piracy review. We have always prohibited the use of our AdSense program on web pages that provide infringing materials. Building on our existing DMCA takedown procedures, we will be working with rightsholders to identify, and, when appropriate, expel violators from the AdSense program.
  • We will experiment to make authorised preview content more readily accessible in search results. Not surprisingly, we’re big fans of making authorised content more accessible on the Internet. Most users want to access legitimate content and are interested in sites that make that content available to them (even if only on a preview basis). We’ll be looking at ways to make this content easier to index and find.
These changes build on our continuing efforts, such as Content ID, to give rightsholders choice and control over the use of their content, and we look forward to further refining and improving our processes in ways that help both rightsholders and users.

New in Public Data Explorer: Visualize the US Budget

We launched Public Data Explorer in Google Labs nearly a year ago to help make the world’s public data more easily accessible and useful. Since then we’ve added a number of interesting datasets from U.S. government agencies, including the Census Bureau, Energy Information Administration, Bureau of Labor Statistics and Bureau of Economic Analysis. Recently, we made another addition: the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

The OMB‘s mission is to help the President of the United States prepare the budget and oversee its application to federal agencies. As a result, it is also the central clearinghouse for U.S. budget data -- statistics that are now available for the first time in Public Data Explorer.

So what does the data show? Check it out and you’ll find a number of interesting things. For example, below are the OMB’s historical and projected net outlays (i.e., money spent) for the federal government. Note the line for “interest on national debt,” which will outpace the Social Security Administration and Department of Defense by 2015.

Net outlays as a percentage of GDP is also interesting:

Finally, have you ever been curious how the US Budget gets funded? The chart below shows the distribution in 2009.

As always, there are a number of caveats to this data, and we encourage folks to follow up with experts to better understand what it truly means. That said, like all of our public data visualizations, we hope these simple charts will help inform the public debate and illuminate trends and key insights. We encourage you to explore the data, and stay tuned for more!