PUBLISHED: 22:26 EST, 15 April 2012 | UPDATED: 07:45 EST, 16 April 2012
The internet is facing its biggest ever threat, thanks in part of Facebook and Apple, the co-founder of Google has claimed.
Sergey Brin said government attempts to control web access and the rise of the increasingly ‘restrictive’ Facebook and Apple platforms threaten freedom of information online.
Mr Brin also said attempts by the entertainment industry to crack down on piracy have led to the U.S. using the same technology and approach it has criticised China and Iran for using.
Mr Brin told The Guardian: ‘There are very powerful forces that have lined up against the open Internet on all sides and around the world.
‘I am more worried than I have been in the past. It’s scary.’
Mr Brin said the rise of ‘walled garden’ like Facebook and Apple, which tightly control what software can be released on their platforms, were restricting innovation online.
Both platforms have risen to become consumer giants with their own proprietary platforms which control access to their users and data.
The 38-year-old told The Guardian that he and Google co-founder Larry Page could not have created their search engine if the internet was dominated by Facebook.
With data stored on Facebook apps not searchable and only accessible to closed, restricted networks of users, the increasingly closed nature of the web risked stifline innovation, he said.
‘There’s a lot to be lost,’ he said. ‘For example all the information in apps — that data is not “crawlable” by web crawlers. You can’t search it.’
Mr Brin’s criticism of Apple and Facebook was part of an alarming portrait he painted of the current internet landscape.
He also said the original open ethos championed by internet pioneers was under threat from plans by governments to monitor web use and attempts by entertainment companies to push through new laws allowing them to demand the closure of pirate websites.
Restrictive: Facebook and Apple both tightly control software on their platforms and access to their users
China has recently introduced ‘real identity’ rules in a bid to rein in microbloggers who have become increasingly critical of the regime, while Russian bloggers who helped foment protests against Vladimir Putin are facing increased pressure from the Kremlin.
Iran is reportedly planning to introduce a sealed ‘national internet’ from this summer, while the UK government has announced plans to monitor citizens’ use of email and social networks.
Mr Brin said five years ago he did not believe China or any country could effectively restrict the Internet for long but he had been proven wrong.
‘I thought there was no way to put the genie back in the bottle, but now it seems in certain areas the genie has been put back in the bottle,’ Mr Brin said.
He cited China, Saudi Arabia and Iran as the greatest threats.
‘Governments are realising the power of this medium to organise people and they are trying to clamp down across the world, not just in places like China and North Korea; we’re seeing bills in the United States, in Italy, all across the world.’
In the U.S., the entertainment industry, he said, is failing to understand that users will continue to download pirated content as long as it is easier to acquire and use than legitimately obtained material.
‘I haven’t tried it for many years but when you go on a pirate website, you choose what you like, it downloads to the device of your choice and it will just work – and then when you have to jump through all these hoops (to buy legitimate content), the walls created are disincentives for people to buy.’
Some will take Mr Brin’s comments on Google rival Facebook, which has seen huge growth and now has more than 800 million members globally, with a grain of salt. The social network has announced plans for a $100 billion IPO.
But his comments on increased interference by governments were echoed by Ricken Patel, co-founder of Avaaz, the 14-million strong activist network which has help train and equip activists in Syria.
Mr Patel said: ‘Governments are realising the power of this medium to organise people and they are trying to clamp down across the world, not just in places like China and North Korea; we’re seeing bills in the United States, in Italy, all across the world.’
Mr Brin also conceded that Google has itself lost the trust of many because its servers sit on American soil, and users’ data are in reach of U.S. authorities.
He admitted the company was forced to hand over information to the U.S. government, and was also sometimes stopped from even telling users it had done so.