Google: Internet freedom has no negative side-effects

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The campaign for global internet freedom has no negative side-effects on local or indigenous cultures and businesses worldwide, Ross LaJeunesse, Google’s global head of free expression and international policy, said on Monday.

Internet freedom is “the right thing for society,” and “for the internet itself,” which “was designed to be open,” he told Al Arabiya on the sidelines of the Internet Freedom Coalition conference in Tunis.

It is also “the right thing for our users,” and “good for our business,” he added.

“I think opening up the internet actually lets local culture thrive, and allows local cultures to export [themselves] to the rest of the world,” LaJeunesse said.

“The internet opens things up, it doesn’t shut them down, but then we do recognize that we have a role to play in promoting local cultures and local businesses online,” he added.

Dismissing fears that Western firms will overtake local businesses in cyberspace, LaJeunesse said the former “enjoy a comparative advantage more in the offline world... because in the online world there are very limited barriers to entry. That’s the power of the internet.”

He gave examples of local businesses in Hong Kong and China thriving because of their use of the internet.

Google has championed an international campaign to provide unfettered internet access to people worldwide, particularly in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

The U.S. tech giant introduced the “Speak to Tweet” communication service during the 2011 Egyptian revolution, to help online users circumvent the complete shutdown of the internet in the country.

In Nov. 2012, the service was also made available in Syria.

Google has also thrown its weight behind an ambitious $1.2 billion project by the O3B Network to provide high-speed connectivity to about 150 countries through a constellation of medium-orbit satellites.

O3B stands for the “other 3 billion” people who live in under-developed countries where there is a lack of fiber optics.

Google has also recently unveiled plans to use balloons just below space to beam connectivity to people without internet access.

Despite its intensive drive for increased online access and freedom, there is growing suspicion over the U.S. government’s international internet surveillance program PRISM.

“We have not joined any program that would give the U.S. government - or any other government - direct access to our servers. Indeed, the U.S. government does not have direct access or a ‘back door’ to the information stored in our data centers,” Google said in an official blog on June 7.

The company has never responded to any government’s request for mass user data, LaJeunesse said.

Google has responded only to “very specific” government requests in accordance with the law, he added.

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