Googlers discuss policy initiatives and SOPA with HKS community

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Past and present Google employees joined Kennedy School students, fellows, and faculty today to discuss the Internet behemoth’s role in policy and the growing importance of transparency and privacy in Google products. Googlers in attendance included representatives from Google’s transparency initiative and Global Industrial Relations team. Talk quickly turned to the company’s response to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), a bill recently introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. Google, in tandem with Wikipedia and other major web services, have publicly protested what they saw as a flawed initiative that would curtail liberties rather than piracy. Wikipedia shut down for all of last Wednesday in protest, while Google put a large black censor block over its logo for the day.Dorothy Chou, a senior analyst, noted that Google’s ethos and line of work give it the unique privilege of aligning with the principles of the open web and the best interests of its users. She also pointed out that any decision to go dark would weigh twice as heavily on Google, because (unlike Wikipedia) its customers include the thousands of small business owners who use its advertising services.
Also interesting were the highlights of Google’s policy initiatives, including its Transparency Report, newly developed Public Alerts system, and a program that gives college students in African countries free access to the Internet.In a special Q&A after the event, the Googlers talked shop with T4C members, noting the merits of educating politicians about the web and debating whether a “Congress of nerds” was the best thing for the country. As a former Congressional intern of the late and beloved Alaska senator Ted Stevens (of “The Internet is a series of tubes” fame), I think it could be. Former Google product manager Prim Ramaswami made the astute point that the future holds a whole new set of technologies that tomorrow’s leaders will not be prepared to deal with, but which tech-savvy young minds will gravitate to naturally. A digitally-confounded Congress remains an exceedingly important issue.

If you want to know more about SOPA, check out this quick explanatory video by the Khan Academy:

SOPA and PIPA: What SOPA and PIPA are at face value and what they could end up enabling