The Media Show, the snarky puppet-based media-literacy show of which I'm part, has launched a campaign on that Kickerstarter thing all the hip kids are using to launch and support cool stuff. Please have a look, spread the word, and help us with your help!
July 25, 2011
July 22, 2011
There's an unfortunate post going around by someone known as @thomasmonopoly on Twitter. It is an open letter to Google regarding their apparently unexpected and arbitrary decision to shut down his Google Account, and the disruptive effect that has had on various important aspects of his life. Read his open letter here.
I feel there is really no excuse for things like this to happen; however, I'm not at this point partiularly aiming that criticism at Google. Sure, I'm not particularly a fan of Google and this does seem to be a really crappy move on their part, but it's just a symptom of a problem larger than Google. What I find most unacceptable is the general trend of @thomasmonopoly and countless others like him getting into the position in which something like this can be allowed to happen.
I've been warning people since the old pre-bubble days of Hotmail, Yahoo, and Geocities of the dangers of depending on freebie third-party services for actually important material. Sure, I play with stuff like social networks and other online freebies, but ultimately they are not being used for majorly important aspects of my life. If all those freebies got shut down out of nowhere one day, I'd still have hold of all my actually important data, contacts, and content. I could still seek and perform work, handle my banking and other responsibilities, and I'd still be within easy reach of anyone who needed to get in touch without so much as a hiccup. I'd even still be blogging, for whatever that may be worth.
You do not become a Google customer by using their search engine or social network or document sharing site; that's how you become a Google user. You become a Google customer by paying them to show your ads to their users, or to otherwise share the massive streams and harvests of data constantly given to them by their users with you. Other free services work in very much the same way. So far as commercial services go, someone called blue_beetle on MetaFilter put it best: "If you are not paying for it, you're not the customer; you're the product being sold."
These days, starter Web and email hosting costs less than you'd pay to put a bottle of juice in your fridge every week. For less than you might spend on one big lunch, you can register your own domain name for an entire year. Add the countless legal, ethical, and practical bonuses to retaining full control of your content with all the rights of a paying customer, and handing all the major keys to your life over to some megacorp with no real obligations to you starts to look like less of a wise decision.
On the other hand, the fact does remain that not everyone who needs an Internet presence has the ability to pay for one. I'm not saying that those individuals have any less right to a safe, secure Internet presence, I think there should definitely be ways to provide free, clear, and full access to every member of society. I do not, however, think it's okay to accept the current state of ad-encrusted, data-farming, user-exploiting freebies as the closest we can get to that ideal. As the case of @thomasmonopoly shows, users of freebies - even from one of the most generally "respected" freebie providers - are still far too prone to being left shut out and powerless with no real notice or recourse.
There is lots of talk on this modern Internet of ours about how online access has mutated into a resource which is unquestionably necessary for full participation in modern society. Some places have already started referring to it as a human right; something that should be available to all of society right along with clean water and public roads. That is definitely the road we should be going down, but we should not mistake the presence of freebies like Google (who ultimately have responsibility only to their shareholders and paying clients) as a satisfactory manifestation of that trend. It's not safe, and we can do better.