Google Turns Evil?

by: Matt Stoller

Sun Dec 14, 2008 at 23:29


Google Inc. has approached major cable and phone companies that carry Internet traffic with a proposal to create a fast lane for its own content, according to documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Google has traditionally been one of the loudest advocates of equal network access for all content providers.

I'm not sure what's going on.  I know there's a lot of dangerous privacy problems surrounding Google, and I'm in the midst of reading Googling Security.  Still, the company has always been good on net neutrality.  This strikes me as odd, although perhaps billionaire techies and telecom interests do in fact have a lot in common.

Update:: Larry Lessig disputes the article.

It is true, as the Journal reports, that I have stated that network providers should be free to charge different rates for different service -- "so long," the Journal quotes, "as the faster service at a higher price is available to anyone willing to pay it."

And Google has a blog post up.

While the reporters got some stuff wrong, the basic disagreement is real.  Lessig wants networks to be able to charge content providers to use an internet fast lane, so long as that price is uniform for all content providers.  This makes little sense to me.  Off the top of my head, if that fast lane became really really fast (to carry, say, HDTV) and it was priced really really high, then sure, Google and iFilm and Comcast and random user Joe could all choose to pay that really high price, but in fact, this would be turning the internet into cable.  Remember, if a network dedicates part of the pipe to a 'fast lane', then less of the pipe goes to the slow lane all regular internet users use.  And the more profitable the fast lane, the less pipe is dedicated to the slow lane that all of us use.  

I'll need to think about it and do some more research, but I don't think this is a defensible position.  The internet should not be a playing field where the well-capitalized have access and everyone else has, well, whatever's left.

Matt Stoller :: Google Turns Evil?

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Google Turns Evil? | 58 comments
Can't they just be hedging their bets? (0.00 / 0)
Lobbying for net neutrality, but keeping an inside track to not be shut out should net neutrality go away?

Not that that's necessarily a good position to take, but it at least makes sense.

no (0.00 / 0)
Lobbying for net neutrality, but keeping an inside track to not be shut out should net neutrality go away?

They are negotiating for their own fast lane.

[ Parent ]
no they aren't, the WSJ got it wrong (intentionally?) (4.00 / 5)
the article was a total hack. they are negotiating to colocate some servers within broadband providers facilities to bring youtube closer to their users. this has the added effect of reducing overall traffic since user's request for youtube will only go:

1. from user to
2. broadband provider,
3. back to user.

rather than:

1. from user to
2. broadband provider,
3. out to the internet,
4. back to broadband provider,
5. back to user.

this is how google fundamentally operates: making things better for google by making things better for everyone (except for the chinese), thus making things better for google (repeat). since the colocation contracts are not exclusive, and the data itself is not given preference, it is non-discriminatory and there is no net neutrality violation.

the more i think about this, the more it seems that it is a very clever attempt to blur the issue in order to attack the whole idea of network neutrality
, and make Google appear to have been advocating in bad faith.

end the blurring--vote steve novick for u.s. senate in oregon

[ Parent ]
You're wrong (4.00 / 2)
I'll repeat what I said in the quick hit:

This isn't counter to net neutrality at all. It's just a co-location deal. I guess you can count on the WSJ to get it wrong.

For those less technically minded, here's an analogy:

Let's say you had a company called Acme Widgets. What Google is doing is equivalent to a Acme Widgets building factories and warehouses near where they sell their widgets so less time and money is wasted on transporting them. Violating Net Neutrality would be the equivalent of setting aside lanes on the freeway to be used only by Acme Widgets, and other companies - particularly other widget companies - couldn't use those lanes to transport their goods.

This kind of co-location deal isn't unusual. In fact, it probably helps out other smaller providers because less up-stream bandwidth is going to be taken up by Google (the same as Acme Widgets taking up less space on the freeway because they don't have to ship their widgets as far.)

Conduct your own interview of Sarah Palin!

[ Parent ]
The bottleneck is (often) in the highway (4.00 / 1)
This is quite right:

This kind of co-location deal isn't unusual. In fact, it probably helps out other smaller providers because less up-stream bandwidth is going to be taken up by Google

The ability to download from sites such as (with mirrors) makes it feasible for Linux distros like Ubuntu to facilitate installations from remote locations (they locate their "US" install servers in the UK).

[ Parent ]
but (0.00 / 0)
everyone with a blog should be entitled to co-lo server space with no additional charge.

and a pony.

~* the * Will * to go on *~

[ Parent ]
You might get it (0.00 / 0)
I know you were being snarky, but some cloud computing services are actually moving in that direction, including those offered by Google, e.g. Google App Engine.

Conduct your own interview of Sarah Palin!

[ Parent ]
I pretty much always assumed something like that would go on (0.00 / 0)
Google doesn't claim to be pure.  I remember reading somewhere that the "Do no evil" mantra was more supposed to be a thought experiment than a slogan.

They also are willing to work with china in order to not be censored in china.  They advocate for net neutrality because a rich and open internet benefits them.  That doesn't mean they would refuse to work with whatever situation arises.


[ Parent ]
Ugh (4.00 / 2)
And Lessig too. Very disappointed in him.  

John McCain: Beacuse lobbyists should have more power

Yeah. What's up with that? (4.00 / 2)
All these long time net neutrality advocates suddenly switching sides at once is rather odd, to say the least...

[ Parent ]
QOS (4.00 / 5)
I'd have to have context, but Lessig's statements sound like he's talking about standard QOS packet shaping, which has never been incompatible with the idea of network neutrality. For example VOIP packets have the unusual property that if they're not delivered in a timely fashion they might as well not be delivered at all; a router or ISP might treat VOIP packets in a special way that takes advantage of this fact. Such packet shaping can violate network neutrality standards, but if implemented in a fair way it's just a matter of handling different kinds of data in a manner best suited to that data.

I am kind of getting the feeling this WSJ article consists of redefining net neutrality in hopes of making it appear people are moving away from it.

[ Parent ]
QoS - the other misunderstood issue (4.00 / 1)
QoS is key to voice over IP - and related stuff like Video on Demand (VoD).

Without QoS, Skype would be worthless. Conversations would be jerky.

Without QoS, Video on Demand would be worthless. If you've seen the white patches when a VoD transmission starts, that's what you'd see through an entire VoD movie.

It's similar to what many people see on an Internet transmission of a TV program - if their anti-virus is strong. (I have to disable my anti-virus when I watch "The Office" on my laptop.)

[ Parent ]
microsoft and yahoo too? (0.00 / 0)
according to the article:

Separately, Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo Inc. have withdrawn quietly from a coalition formed two years ago to protect network neutrality. Each company has forged partnerships with the phone and cable companies.

not trying to absolve google here, but if microsoft and yahoo are doing it, i would assume google would almost have to do it (not that it makes it less evil, hi google (: ).

end the blurring--vote steve novick for u.s. senate in oregon

Well, I like the leak. (4.00 / 3)
I'm just an amateur newspaper-reader, but it looks to me like the Google section of the article is hung on unauthorized leaked documents.  That's good.  Someone in the company looks to be fighting back against this particular move.

Commentary from those who actually know what they're talking about is invited.

And yes, WTF is Lessig thinking?  

Its a matter of trust (4.00 / 1)
The tech companies(and lessig) probably didn't trust even the slightest change to net neutrality under the Bush admin.  

Because the degree is rather important.  None of them wanted to get into a battle that killed the internet as it currently is.  But they have no real problem with say google or microsoft going 20% faster than it currently does.

Thats my guess anyways.

Its still not a good thing as simplicity is good in technology and this just needlessly complicates things.  My suspicion is that it might not actually be possible to create such a fast track when it comes right down to it.  At least not a secure one.


[ Parent ]
I guess we are going to have to make a stink about it... (4.00 / 1)
...on or whatever... We have to remind Obama that a neutral Internet is what got him elected...

I can't believe this is happening!  This could really crush us...  I can't believe all these former allies suddenly abandoning us...  

I hope we can manage to maintain net neutrality... we are going to have to work very hard to keep it, I imagine...

REID: Voting against us was never part of our arrangement!
SPECTER: I am altering the deal! Pray I don't alter it any further!
REID: This deal keeps getting worse all the time!

Some clarification (0.00 / 0)
of the situation discussed in the WSJ article can be found here.  I haven't read it all yet, so won't add any comments:

It kind of looks to me (4.00 / 3)
Like the WSJ is trying to reinterpret something Google's already doing as anti-net-neutrality, as a way of claiming Google had flip-flopped on net neutrality and, thus, weakening net neutrality as a movement.

[ Parent ]
bingo! n/t (4.00 / 2)
the net neutrality blurring strategy of 2009 has begun two weeks early

end the blurring--vote steve novick for u.s. senate in oregon

[ Parent ]
Thank you (4.00 / 2)
I first started getting annoyed at the media because it did such an awful job of doing tech reporting.  I've been a Linux/Unix user since university and tech reporting on these topics was so awful it was shameful.  They still do a far worse job on reporting tech than the do on politics (yes, seriously).  If anything tech reporting has gotten worse, not better.

I find it disappointing that Matt Stoller sees fit to believe and pass on an article from the WSJ with zero criticism or skepticism.

And in the interests of full disclosure, I work at Google.  I have no knowledge of net neutrality in Google - it's not the area I work in.  But I'm not going to believe much technical reporting about any company or technology coming from the WSJ regardless of who I work for or what the article is about.

[ Parent ]
Just goes to show how easy it is for the media to reshape the story (0.00 / 0)
especially as it relates to misunderstood systems like the Internet.

Stoller's a smart cookie. But even he was easily fooled by this one.

[ Parent ]
um (0.00 / 0)
Stoller's a smart cookie. But even he was easily fooled by this one.


[ Parent ]
See my other comments on this thread (0.00 / 0)
Thank you for asking.

[ Parent ]
um (4.00 / 2)
I find it disappointing that Matt Stoller sees fit to believe and pass on an article from the WSJ with zero criticism or skepticism.

Here's what I wrote:

I'm not sure what's going on.  I know there's a lot of dangerous privacy problems surrounding Google, and I'm in the midst of reading Googling Security.  Still, the company has always been good on net neutrality.  This strikes me as odd, although perhaps billionaire techies and telecom interests do in fact have a lot in common.

"I'm not sure what's going on."  Wow, there's some harsh agreement with this article.  :)  Maybe I wrote that I didn't know what's going on because I was actually doing research, checking sources, etc.  While reading the article, I knew instantly the WSJ got the Lessig stuff wrong, but there is a basic disagreement here that cannot be elided by accusations of bad reporting and I don't want the focus of this article to be 'bad reporting' when there really is something to discuss.  

You might not like bad reporting, but you yourself sucked in at least this comment at actually relaying information clearly.  It's not actually that easy to remove your own biases from a situation, so have some sympathy for others trying to do it.

[ Parent ]
Lessig's own words (4.00 / 2)
From his blog:

Missing from the article, however, is the evidence that my view is a "shift" or "soften[ing]" of earlier views. That's because there isn't any such evidence. My view is the view I have always had -- whether or not it is the view of others in this debate.

For example, in April, 2008, I testified before the Senate Commerce Committee. This is what I said:

   As I testified in 2006, in my view that minimal strategy right now marries the basic principles of "Internet Freedom" first outlined by Chairman Michael Powell, and modified more recently by the FCC, to one additional requirement - a ban on discriminatory access tiering. While broadband providers should be free, in my view, to price consumer access to the Internet differently - setting a higher price, for example, for faster or greater access - they should not be free to apply discriminatory surcharges to those who make content or applications available on the Internet. As I testified, in my view, such "access tiering" risks creating a strong incentive among Internet providers to favor some companies over others; that incentive in turn tends to support business models that exploit scarcity rather than abundance. If Google, for example, knew if could buy a kind of access for its video content that iFilm couldn't, then it could exploit its advantage to create an even greater disadvantage for its competitors; network providers in turn could deliver on that disadvantage only if the non-privileged service was inferior to the privileged service.

That's the same thing I said to the FCC in its hearing at Stanford. You can hear what I said beginning at minute 18:20 here. There I distinguish between "zero price regulations" (such as Markey's bill (which I say I am against)) and what I called "zero discriminatory surcharge rules" (which I say I am for). The zero discriminatory surcharge rules are just that -- rules against discriminatory surcharges -- charging Google something different from what a network charges iFilm. The regulation I call for is a "MFN" requirement -- that everyone has the right to the rates of the most favored nation.

It sounds reasonable to me.  The main point of network neutrality, I thought, was to prevent network operators who are also content providers from discriminating against content competitors.

Things You Don't Talk About in Polite Company: Religion, Politics, the Occasional Intersection of Both

As long as there's equal opportunity (0.00 / 0)
What you're saying here is exactly right.

The main point of network neutrality, I thought, was to prevent network operators who are also content providers from discriminating against content competitors.

As long as others have the same opportunity as Google, the principle of net neutrality is satisfied.

[ Parent ]
But how is "equal opportunity" defined? (4.00 / 2)
If, again, that opportunity is defined by ability to pay, then I suggest we have a problem.

[ Parent ]
The defintion of "equal opportunity" is certainly significant (0.00 / 0)
or at least a significant question. But even when AT&T was regulated, telephone access was not free either.

[ Parent ]
Co-Location is a common practice, even for the net-neutral (4.00 / 3)
As I stated in the related Quick Hit, it happens all the time in the ultimate "net neutral" operating system, Linux.

There are mirrors of the major Linux distributions in all major locations worldwide, most commonly at University Internet2 based nodes.

Just because such mirroring would happen at ISPs, the practice would be no different. And the cost is relatively trivial for any sort of ISP.

The "net neutral" question is whether an ISP provides equal opportunity for co-location for anyone other than Google.

The WSJ, just like the rest of the world, does not understand how the Internet really works (or they do understand, and are taking advantage of public perceptions to hit Google).

thin end of the wedge (4.00 / 1)
The mechanism of violating NN is different, but the effect is the same.  Google will pay more to have their content load faster than anyone else.

Broadband providers only have so much room in their Datacentres, so they will price the available "co-location" space to a point where the big boys can afford to have their stuff load fast, and everyone else is back at tier 2.

[ Parent ]
With Virtual Machine technology, space is now a trivial question (0.00 / 0)
Yeah, sure, you can't co-locate the whole Internet at every ISP. But with the advances in VMs, space is - no longer - an issue.

[ Parent ]
not totally (4.00 / 1)
You're right, it makes it much more efficient, but each physical server can still only carry so many virtual servers, you still need large SAN devices for disk space, etc.  Operations staff still need to monitor these servers, backups need be taken, etc etc.

Main point being, Comcast or At&t is not going to host your servers, even virtually for free.  

I mean in theory they can always expand or build larger data centres, but the end result would still be that everyone is paying the ISPs extra for faster service.  

[ Parent ]
The current trend is towards smaller spaces (0.00 / 0)
Yes, there will be a point where space becomes an issue again. But today, ISPs and others are consolidating many physical servers into just a few, courtesy of VMs.

And nobody is suggesting that co-location is free. I believe net neutrality is satisfied as long as everyone has an equal opportunity for said - virtual - space.  

[ Parent ]
yes (0.00 / 0)
I'm not sure why everyone is so quick to defend the "benevolent" Google.

[ Parent ]
Well gee why not? (4.00 / 1)
Seems like all they want is an internet segregated by ability to pay.  As long as they get a cut, of course.

[ Parent ]
Yep (0.00 / 0)
That's exactly right, or it would be in an alternate universe where Spock has a goatee.

Conduct your own interview of Sarah Palin!

[ Parent ]
they have friends (4.00 / 1)
who work there.

that's not a joke. lots of google employees are very active in left online politics. they are also nice people. but this warps perspectives. IMHO.

~* the * Will * to go on *~

[ Parent ]
but colo space is limited (0.00 / 0)
There isn't much space in most wire-centers, so that constraint is not artificial. What solution would propose as an alternative to a market for that space?

[ Parent ]
See my reponse w/r/t VMs (0.00 / 0)
With virtual machines, the space question is now essentially irrelevant.

[ Parent ]
not really (0.00 / 0)
Disks take up space and use power, and a VM isn't the appropriate solution for a caching problem. Disk space is cheap, but not free. There are companies (Akamai, Limelight) that offer co-located caching services from within wire-centers, but they are very expensive since they are essentially retailing a scarce resource - wire center colocation space.

Given Google's significant caching needs it probably makes sense for them economically to buy their caching wholesale and lease space in the wire centers rather than rely on one of the caching services.

[ Parent ]
Disk space is still becoming cheaper (0.00 / 0)
Mirrors work just fine, and with VMs, power is being used much more efficiently.

But I suggest that with the way VMs are being implemented, wire center colocation space is not (currently) a problem.

OTOH yes, VMs are not the appropriate solution for - all - caching problems.

[ Parent ]
That's silly (4.00 / 1)
That's like saying that local farmers are bad because there is a limited amount of space for local farms. Or saying that large manufacturers shouldn't be allowed to use techniques that take advantage of the economy of scale. These sorts of co-location deals aren't new and they aren't sinister. It's about efficiency, not unfair competition. If Google is caching it's traffic, it actually makes the up-stream link faster for everyone else.

Net Neutrality is VERY IMPORTANT to me personally, and this WSJ article is pure hackitude that only serves to cloud the waters.

Google is still one of the good guys here.

Conduct your own interview of Sarah Palin!

[ Parent ]
bandwidth isn't free (4.00 / 1)
Google already pays more to have their content load faster. If you want people to see your webpage, you have to pay for upstream bandwidth, and if you want your webpage to load faster you have to pay for more upstream bandwidth. In Google's case, they probably serve so much traffic that they are running into bottlenecks that are more efficiently solved by colocating. But I don't see how that violates net neutrality.

To put it in a different context, Amazon builds lots of warehouses to keep shipping times down. If a competitor to Amazon wants to compete on shipping time, they also have to build up the distribution network and pay loads of money to shipping companies. I don't see how this is different.

Google is not signing exclusive contracts, is not (as far as I can tell) getting a different price on colocating servers, and is not paying for customers to get faster download speeds when surfing Google sites, at least not directly (they are simply reducing the distant traffic travels).

[ Parent ]
to hit Google (4.00 / 1)
that's funny.

if it were the case that google was getting a special high speed lane on ISPs in violation of NN principles, news of such would INCREASE the stock price of GOOG, not decrease it.  

~* the * Will * to go on *~

[ Parent ]
Google has shareholders now (4.00 / 3)
They are required to seek maximum ROI for those shareholders.  So the "do no evil" maxim cannot be obeyed or Google's officers could be sued by shareholders.

It really sucks, but that's how corporate ownership goes.  Once Google IPO'ed, the principles of how they are managed changed for good.

yes (0.00 / 0)
this is true too. Doing what's in your shareholders interests and doing what's in the public's interest are quite often at odds.

[ Parent ]
And let's not forget (0.00 / 0)
Things like employees being "encouraged" to sleep on-premises so that they can work late.  Google's been quite evil for a while.  Kind of comes with the territory when you're a large company under the current system which does nothing but reward awful behavior.

[ Parent ]
sleep on-premises (0.00 / 0)
many developers consider it fun. its part of the culture. particularly the start-up culture. some of these issues in old labor are miles apart in new labor. they're not sleeping outside in a box car; they get really nice food, a fun cot near their friends, fooze ball tables, its like living in a dorm. its no wonder old guard labor unions have nothing in common with libertarian tech labor - they have vast cultural differences and tech work by and large is a lot cushier than industrial manufacturing.

~* the * Will * to go on *~

[ Parent ]
fun for now (4.00 / 4)
I imagine at some point it was considered fun and macho for med students to work 24-hour shifts. After awhile it becomes a tradition that all who follow are expected to participate in.

Those that like the "dorm" culture you describe will thrive, get promoted to management, etc. Those that prefer to work regular hours and sleep at home will probably suffer the consequences. Of course the official explanation for their lack of advancement will be they that are not team players, etc. etc. blah, blah, blah.

[ Parent ]
Legit question (0.00 / 0)
Tremayne raises a legit question w/r/t general high tech.

At this point, with many tech companies, there is an opportunity for many who work crazy hours to become well off after a few years.

But at some point, it becomes as Tremayne suggests - just a crapshoot with little chance for true advancement or compensation. (I believe more mature tech companies such as IBM - and probably Microsoft are there.)

[ Parent ]
Competition for workers (4.00 / 1)
Right now, working at Google is awesome because they're competing for the very best people, so they have to attract them. And part of why they're awesome is that they have the most challenging projects.

If you look, by contrast, at the game industry, you'll see the opposite. Everybody and their brother wants to write videogames and quality tends to take a back-seat (yes, the major titles tend to be good, but 99% of the games on the rack are complete shit). So there's no shortage of new recruits when you burn out your workers.

Conduct your own interview of Sarah Palin!

[ Parent ]
then again .. (4.00 / 1)
the above described tech culture works when you aren't married with kids ... once you have a life outside work ... the whole sleeping on cots at the office only works for the Dick Vermeil's of the world(old school Eagles fans know what I mean)

[ Parent ]
If you say so (4.00 / 2)
I've seen it in action with people at Yahoo.  All of those little "creature comforts" eventually become more and more reasons not to leave the premises.  Need coffee?  Here's some right here.  Want to go home?  Go chill on the couch for a half hour and come back.

I'm not saying that being stuck at work in front of a monitor is the same as being stuck in front of a lathe, but at the end of the day it's still just another employer trying to squeeze that last dime out of a warm body.

[ Parent ]
does it matter (4.00 / 1)
that much, when the general population (including the bulk of the left) have embraced for-profit social network systems which act as private internets - shoveling all traffic through their gateway and content services. sadly most people are opting into private "internets".

AOL is dead, long live AOL Facebook.

~* the * Will * to go on *~

What this is really about (4.00 / 1)
Enemies of Net Neutrality want to cloud the waters. They can point to articles like this and say "SEE! Even Google is doing it!" When, in reality, they're doing nothing sinister at all. Like science, or politics, or anything else, you can count on the media to get Tech issues completely wrong.

Let me repeat: this is a completely ordinary co-location/caching deal. It does not create a reserved "fast-lane" for Google. Yes, it will make some Google services faster, but that's just because it's being more efficient, not because it's taking bandwidth from anyone else (the improved efficiency actually BENEFITS everyone else who don't have to compete as much with Google for upstream bandwidth).

Conduct your own interview of Sarah Palin!

Pretty much (0.00 / 0)
Instead of calling it a fast lane call it a short lane.


[ Parent ]
If you're interested in researching further (0.00 / 0)
I recommend

While it has a pro-NN bias and leans strongly towards Google's side of the story,

it also includes links to anti-NN types - and anti-Google interpretations such as  

squeezing (4.00 / 2)
The idea that giving preferential bandwidth to some customers will squeeze the rest is only true if the total bandwidth remains constant.

What is needed in the country is an overall expansion of bandwidth so that such technical solutions aren't really needed. Japan and S. Korea are way ahead of us in terms of the level of service provided over the internet.

If private firms are too strapped for cash or don't see a way to make a profit over expanding the network then this is a good opportunity for some government intervention.

If the government could build the interstate highway system to facilitate commerce it should be able to do something similar for the information highway.

Now that the free marketeers are in retreat we can start discussing meaningful government infrastructure projects again.

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