For quite some time I have been struggling to come up with the appropriate analogy to describe the problem and the threat to the internet presented by some of the “innovations” coming out of Google. For one company to be in a position to unilaterally force changes in the Internet Standard is not in the best interest of anyone who uses the internet, except Google itself.
Last week I explained how two organizations, The Internet Society (ISOC) and The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) oversee voluntary agreements on engineering standards that keep the internet working. These non-government non-profit organizations provide a forum for maintaining and updating the Internet Standard and Internet Protocol. This forum coordinates the manner by which 241 countries and territories speaking hundreds of languages work through voluntary adherence to the Internet Standard.
Now imagine this fictional scenario: One day you come home to find that your kitchen is full of smoke because the motor in your refrigerator has burned to a crisp. Then you discover that every light bulb in your house has burned out. Some electrical devices, such as your laptop computer, still work because it runs off a battery, but you soon learn its power cord has been burned out leaving you with no way to recharge the battery. Your big flat-screen television is a smoldering ruin that will no longer turn on. The same is now true for most of your other appliances.
You call your electrician and he explains, “I changed your electric service from 110 volts to 440 volts.” “Why the change?” you ask. “It’s more efficient,” he says. True, 440V would in fact be much more energy efficient than 110V, but you cannot simply change from one to the other without consequences such as having to buy a new refrigerator, all new appliances, all new light bulbs, and almost everything else in your home that runs on electricity. So you mention that to your electrician and he says, “But with 440 volts you’ll use less electricity. Don’t you want to help save the planet?” Just keep in mind how you are doing that as you sit home in the dark.
Although changing the electric current you use from 110V to 440V would certainly have some energy-saving advantages, I think everyone will agree it would be better if your electrician refrained from arbitrarily and capriciously making that change without your prior approval. In other words, it would be better if you were not being forced at gunpoint to go out and buy a new refrigerator, blender, hair dryer, television, and so forth.
Today Google is demonstrating its willingness to ignore the ISOC and IETF by making unilateral changes impacting everyone who uses Google’s products (Chrome, Gmail, etc.). Increasingly Google is using its dominant market position to throw its weight around, forcing standards changes that can affect how everyone on earth uses the internet. Is that a good thing?
Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981 and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 044 415 101 8528 or email FAQ8 (at) SMAguru.com.