Two sides of the WWW

The New York Times unloads on the leading internet companies:

Yahoo’s collaboration [against Chinese dissidents] is appalling, and Yahoo is not the only American company helping the Chinese government repress its people. Microsoft shut down a blogger at Beijing’s request. Google, Yahoo and Microsoft censor searches in China. Cisco Systems provided hardware used by Beijing to censor and monitor the Internet.

These companies argue that it is better for the Chinese people to have a censored Internet than no Internet. They say that they must abide by the laws of the countries they operate in. But the Chinese Constitution guarantees freedom of speech, the press, association and assembly. Those guarantees may be purely symbolic, but these companies — which loudly protest Chinese piracy of their intellectual property — have not tried to resist. What they are resisting are efforts in Congress that could help them stand against repressive governments.

Last January, Representative Christopher Smith of New Jersey reintroduced the Global Online Freedom Act in the House. It would fine American companies that hand over information about their customers to foreign governments that suppress online dissent. The bill would at least give American companies a solid reason to decline requests for data, but the big Internet companies do not support it. That shows how much they care about the power of information to liberate the world.

And Google continues its contradictory policy of colluding with dictatorships yet working to improve the environment:

Google said Tuesday that it’ll spend “tens of millions” to research clean-energy alternatives to coal-fired power plants and “hundreds of millions” to cut the costs of this power.

The goal is to produce 1 gigawatt of power from clean power sources – enough to light up a city the size of San Francisco – at a cost that’s the same as if the energy came from low-cost, high-polluting coal.

How soon? “Within years, not decades,” Google co-founder Larry Page wrote in a Web post.

Besides investing in solar, wind and geothermal companies, Google will create its own research and development group “to look very aggressively at what we think are some promising technological pathways,” said Bill Weihl, Google’s green energy czar.