I haven't written a book report since 6th grade, and this isn't really one, but having finally gotten around to reading Nobel Peace Prize Recipient Al Gore's The Assault On Reason, I find myself trying to reason my way through some signals that are striking me as a little bit off.

For the record, I thought this book was brilliant. Its critique of America's current political and environmental climates was stinging, clear and soulfully rendered. As an SEO, however, I feel that a worthy (and non-political) discussion could take place in our industry around Al Gore's assertion that the Internet has the potential to improve democracy.

Gore puts forth the idea that television has created a very passive public because of its one-way delivery system. When you watch TV, you only receive - you do not send. Americans spend some 4 1/2 hours of their daily discretional time passively receiving information presented by a large number of stations owned by a very minute number of very large corporations.

By contrast, the Internet is the platform for 2-way information sharing. You can receive, but you can also send and almost anyone can publish a blog, make a video, buy AdWords. Simple self-publishing means that stories get told which major media ignore and Gore's book is filled with hope that the freedom of information and opportunity for conversation provided by the Internet may train Americans back out of an apathetic approach to democracy. After all, democracy is meant to be participatory, but there is plenty of evidence that many Americans no longer feel they have any ability to affect or control the government under which they live.

Gore's central point in this section of The Assault On Reason is that if TV has trained us to be unquestioning and inactive, perhaps the Internet will encourage a greater feeling of a right to involvement in all areas of our lives.

I found this subject and its presentation in the book to be compelling and exciting and would enjoy participating in a discussion about it. But then, as I read on, a couple of little bells went off in my head and they've been bothering me ever since.

After talking about this great potential of the web, Gore takes up the subject of Net Neutrality and the vital importance of keeping the Internet free, equal and open. He speaks out strongly against the danger, not only of corrupt governments accessing your information, but also against monopolies.

Al Gore is a Senior Advisor to Google.

I have been able to find precious little information about his top position there, but ask any linkbuilder what they think of Google and 'monopoly' may be one of the first words that comes out of their mouth. Google's enforcement of their no-follow policy on all text ads besides those purchased through their own Adwords program has caused endless, heated debate. Ask officials at the Department of Justice what they think of Google and you may also start hearing words like 'monopoly' or at least 'antitrust' thrown around.

In 2006, Google made major headlines as they attempted to fight off the DOJ from swiping private citizens' Internet data. Roll forward to 2008 and we find Germany's Federal Office for Information Security warning citizens not to install Google Chrome for fear, in part, that all of their data would be collected by Google and used for unknown purposes. And then, there's the whole Google Street View fiasco with privacy lawsuits flying as well as the new GeoEye-1 Spy Satellite, capable of seeing what you're eating for dinner tonight.

The Assault On Reason quotes Internet godfather and Google VP Vint Cerf regarding the urgent need to keep the Internet neutral and open. This is the same Vint Cerf who told us just a few weeks ago, in response to citizen concerns about Google and privacy issues, "There isn't any privacy, get over it."

As a self-proclaimed tree hugging, environmentalist organic farmer who is deeply concerned about Climate Change, I really respect Al Gore, I really enjoyed his book, and I am really bewildered by the mix of signals it has set off in my head.

Gore is warning Americans to wake up, stop being so numb about their runaway government, their privacy, their ability to maintain a free press and an open market. But Gore works for Google. And Germany thinks Google is becoming a threat to one of the basic rights which the United States Constitution and most state Constitutions make much of - privacy. Is the conflict in all of this information within my own mind, or is it within Al Gore's message? Last time I looked, Gore once worked for the government. Last time I looked, no one was saying that they enjoyed having their data collected, whether by Google, Gore or the government. But, all of us are continuing to use Google's services, every day. Is it that we just don't really care?

Maybe this is all starting to sound like a conspiracy theory, but human beings tend to develop long-stretch myths in the absence of true understanding and transparency. And, we tend to prefer clear heroes and obvious villains. Google has skated along on an appearance of trustworthiness for a decade, but the Internet climate is heating up over this subject and the ice appears to be wearing thinner.

The least I can do, having taken much of The Assault on Reason's message to heart is to heed its warnings, confused as I am now feeling about their source. If we really wake up, as Gore is asking us to, what will we come to understand about the company he works for? I'd like to know what you think.


September 9, 2008





Miriam Ellis is the co-owner of Solas Web Design and CopyLocal, providing SEO-based website design, Local SEO and professional copywriting for small-to-medium North American businesses. She is the Local SEO Associate in the Q&A Forum at SEOmoz, a moderator at Cre8asite Forums and an annual participant in David Mihm's Local Search Ranking Factors report. When she and her husband are not working on the web, they're farming organically and working on increased sustainability or roaming about in nature having the time of their lives.






Comments(5)

Al Gore is an advisor to Google but I would not say that he "works for Google".

Scott McNealy of SUN Microsystems is the originator of the phrase 'There isn't any privacy; get over it." I think his use and mine were somewhat tongue in cheek but considering how much content pours into the net each day, one really does have the sense that privacy is going to be in short supply in the long term.

Vint Cerf

Good Evening, Mr. Cerf,

It's an honor to see you here, and I thank you for taking the time to comment on my article.

I can understand that the printed word often fails to convey the expressive intention behind the spoken word. It's a limitation of the alphabet I suppose, but the quote I've cited above has clearly resonated with an increasing fear some Americans are expressing about their basic (yet complex) rights, like privacy.

This is a subject about which I feel concern. Similar quotes from Google employees/associates regarding the fact that we are moving toward an age devoid of privacy seem to overlook the fact that it is companies like Google which are taking us there.

It's seldom one gets something for nothing in this world, and the price users (knowingly or unknowingly) pay for using Google's brilliant services is having their data collected for the purpose of analysis and personalization of SERPs and advertising. It's a profitable business model for Google, but one for which the rest of the human race has yet to experience potential costs.

It does concern me when there appears to be conflict coming from citizens I admire - men like Al Gore - who are promoting citizen privacy in regards to the government and yet giving their seal of approval to Google. People are complex, of course, but mixed messages tend to confuse all of us, and though I sincerely enjoyed Gore's book, it made me wonder about his true stance regarding such important issues.

I'd imagine you're getting rather weary of having people re-publish that quote of yours, Mr. Cerf. It has obviously called forth a strong response, and maybe, for that reason alone, is worth discussing.

Thank you again for taking the time to comment. It would be a pleasure to see you here again at any time.
Miriam


AlGore created a firestorm with his Global Warming propaganda. Only trouble is, that it's a made up problem full of junk science and "selected" observations.

And you can tell he doesn't really believe a thing he says. His home is a "carbon footprint" disaster. He blithely cut down trees next to the Grand Canyon and had them dumped into the canyon just so a publicity shot of him would have an unobstructed scenic view to back it up. He forced an unnecessary release of water from a dam just so he could be photographed canoing down a river that had the bald audacity to be too low for his canoe. Heck, the eeeeevil George Bush has a better conservation record than the holy Gore (Bush's Texas home is a model of energy and water conservation).

But whatever you think of Global Warming, the fact is that Gore and his cohorts have used this phony phenomenon to reduce our freedoms rather than increase it. In the holy name of Global Warming, entire industries have been destroyed, civil rights trampled on, and tax money spent on some of the silliest programs I've ever seen in my 64 years of life (and yes, I'm old enough to remember the "Global Cooling" scare of the late 60's and 70's).

So, it's no surprise to hear AlGore once again saying one thing and doing another.

Americans especially are prone to a high degree of hypocricy where business and ethics are involved (though it's a universally-suffered ill). Al Gore isn't immune to it. The article's point however, isn't Gore's "greenness" per se but his financial role in a monopolistic enterprise and the implications this has for personal privacy and freedom. One can argue the fine points of Gore's role in Google all day long, but in summation, if he gets paid by them, he is in their employ.
In its early life, Google was the white-hat good guy, championing an Internet unconstrained by the 800 lb gorilla that was/is Microsoft. The tables have turned now: since going public, the controlling interests of Google have an obligation to maximize profit for the corporation's shareholders. In our current business environment, that will cause conflicts of interest, of morality, of ethics.
What is needed more than ever is a clear definition of the boundaries between acceptable profit-capture and economic savagery; a boundary that CEOs, shareholders, and consultants can freely discuss. For such an environment to exist across competing and disparate businesses, some policing organization must have the ability to moderate corporate behavior - i.e. governmental control. Which, after creating, becomes the potential source for the very ills it seeks to cure.

Hello Al,
I appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts on this subject. We may have to agree to disagree about Gore's sincerity. It's my opinion that he went through an episode of personal enlightenment after putting aside his political career. He came out of this evidently very dedicated to the health of the planet. I do think he believes what he is saying, but have no doubt you know things about him that I don't that give you good reason to question him.

Thanks for commenting!
Miriam


Astute comments, JayClimbs. This one strikes me as especially true:

"Which, after creating, becomes the potential source for the very ills it seeks to cure."

I think you are quite right in identifying the complicated atmosphere in which corruption, monopoly and special interest goals trump any concern for public welfare.

Perhaps, our best hopes for combating both corporate or governmental abuses are citizen watch-dogging and whistle blowing. But, turn these things into paid position, organized positions or prestigious positions and power struggles begin all over again.

I read your remarks with great interest. Please, stop by again.
Miriam

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