I’ve been following this story more openly on Facebook than on Registan, largely because before today I had not heard enough to really form a solid opinion. Fortunately, others who seem to know a bit less of the situation have saw fit to jump in and opinionate at will… so at least I have someone to argue against.
Here are some Headlines Concerning the Event, so we can get a feel for how it is being
spun presented to the world’s readers.
- Changes to the open Internet in Kazakhstan (Original story from Official Google Blog)
- Google faces another China-like hurdle in Kazakhstan
- Kazakhstan Tries to Censor Google – But Google Fights Back
- Google Defies Kazakhstan Bid for Controlled Web
- Google refuses to set up Kazakh server
- Google Redirects Traffic to Avoid Kazakh Demands
- Google Sidesteps Kazakhstan Restrictions
- Google Steers Kazakhstan Traffic Through Its Main Portal
Those with less interest (and information regarding) Kazakhstan have decided to paint this story in the same broad strokes as the continuing narrative of Google Vs. The Evil Empire. These stories tend to mention past problems with China, future concerns with Iran’s upcoming private “intranet,” and the fact that Central Asia is full of dictators who have done nothing but curb the rights of its citizens. The opposing thread hasn’t really been defined yet, though I suspect it might be something that more or less switches the players, with Google as Evil Empire and China, Iran, and their neighbors as the oppressed figures.
I think there is room for a third option, but I’m not entirely certain how to articulate it. There are a couple things that I am thinking about, however.
- Google did not, in its press release, make any comparisons with China openly. It used a rather poetic rhetoric speaking of, “the genius of the Internet” and the global network not being bound “by national boundaries.”
- Those stories which have jumped off the deep end in painting Kazakhstan as a clueless backwater attempting to deny Google’s openness have not offered any logic or reasoning for this move by Kazakhstan. What would Kazakhstan gain by refusing a company like Google? Is it a dictatorship that survives only on the ignorance and fear of its populace? According to one of the stories above, “Kazakhstan’s is just the latest attempt by an iron-fisted government to interfere with Google.” Some of the uninformed might assume that is the case, but I think Registan’s readers know this is not the case.
- The Wall Street Journal (among others) have asked some other questions: what about Yandex (the ‘Russian’ Google)? This is a very good question, but I do not think the Google decision was the result of the highest powers in motion. Similarly, the WSJ still falls into other pit traps (or lazy journalism) continuing to define Nazabaev as a leader who “has shown increasingly authoritarian leanings,” and leads a “mainly Muslim country.” Yes, well, sure – but the country is neither Russia nor Yemen, so a little more information might be useful to the casual WSJ reader.
- Some Russian language sources offer (not surprisingly) a bit more information:
- Google ушел из Казахстана (Google leaves Kazakhstan)
- Казахстанская ассоциация IT- компаний разъяснила ситуацию с Интернет-поисковиком Google.kz (Kazakhstan Association of IT companies to clarify the Google.kz situation)
In short, these stories make a point that it is the opinion of a private company that is going against the opinions of governments, elected governments of foreign (to Google) countries. I think this is a very fair point to reiterate. Google’s VP can speak of the internet not being bound by national boundaries, but what of Google? It is an American company whose profits come, increasingly, from overseas. They might want to climb down from their lofty ideals when dealing with those countries typically less optimistic about the egalitarian way Americans view the world.
Even more important, the KazInform story above explains that it was an overzealous act of a regulating committee, failing to see that Google was grandfathered into the Internet Laws requiring users of .kz to use servers found within Kazakhstan. It would seem, then, that not only is Yandex safe, but that Google may yet be asked to return. I imagine that will be either unreported in the West, or spun as the iron-fisted dictator bowing before the might of the super-giant Google…
- Google might actually be the oppressor in this case, or at least acting inappropriately. Google provides a service that the World is happy (so far) to pay for, but Kazakhstan is merely the newest country to be straining against their hegemony and requesting them to use servers in Kazakhstan to provide this service. It might even go so far as ask them to pay those bills using bank accounts set up in the country. That is really not so much to ask and other foreign corporations already do the same in Kazakhstan without producing the kind of blow-back from American bloggers.
Another point to consider is that only the United States military and its affiliates have use of the .mil extension, as only the United States government uses .gov. There’s no real need for a .us extension, considering .com fulfills that need quite well. Why not let Kazakhstan do what it wants with .kz, at least until they receive a .uki (or whatever they want for gov’t and official sites)? It seems only fair. Perhaps the internet should learn that by failing to recognize national boundaries, they are in reality enforcing an American hegemony. Or is that un-American of me to suggest?