Google is a company that's long stood up for the principles of net neutrality, the idea that all packets of information on the internet should be treated equally. But now that it's an internet service provider, the company's changing its tune. It's not the first time.
Google's stance on net neutrality is being called into question again this week after revelations that the company engaged in a little bit of doublespeak when it comes to the new Google fibre network. Despite countless statements supporting net neutrality in the past, Google now forbids its new ISP customers from running servers on their home fibre networks. This means that everything from a Minecraft server to a Slingbox would violate Google's terms of service. This also runs in direct conflict with the principles of net neutrality, but Google doesn't seem to think it's a problem. After a potential customer filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission over the server clause in the terms of service, Google responded by saying that it was completely within its rights to block this behaviour.
This is dicey for a few different reasons. First of all, the obvious: Google can't exactly champion the principles of net neutrality on one hand and then sneak in a policy that violates those principles on the other. That's hypocritical/ The company also can't cite the policies of the other ISPs as justification for blocking the use of servers on its network as it did in its recent response to the FCC, after spending years standing up to those ISPs and their potentially anti-neutrality stances on internet regulation. That's hypocritical too!
But Google's got a bit of a history when it comes to being hypocritical.
August 2010: In a move that was basically a white flag over its previous net neutrality efforts, the company famously forged a partnership with Verizon for a joint policy proposal that amounted to a give and take over net neutrality. Verizon committed to upholding the principles of net neutrality that Google prefers for the wired web, while Google agreed to far weaker regulation of wireless networks. This tradeoff probably seemed much more reasonable three years ago when mobile web traffic wasn't on such a bull run. Either way, it was a clear example of Google folding its hand when it came to real challenges to net neutrality.
September 2012: Some say that Google's hypocrisy on net neutrality is most noticeable when the company simply didn't say anything at all. For example, Google didn't say a word about AT&T blocking FaceTime over cellular connections, a move that had net neutrality advocates up in arms. Some might write this off as Google avoiding fighting Apple's battles, but the fact of the matter is that these offenses against net neutrality affect every company.
May 2013: Google stayed silent a few months later, too, when AT&T appeared to be blocking the data stream for Google Hangouts on its network. This came after AT&T folded on its FaceTime blocking and supposedly allowed Hangouts over the cellular network. Again, it was less about what Google did than what it didn't do. "The Google of old would've stood up and been public about there being a problem," Derek Turner, research director for the pro-Net Neutrality group Free Press, told Gizmodo. "Their silence to me on this issue is what's worrying."
And of course, Google only spoke out about this latest server issue after the FCC ordered it to do so.
Even if the company's stance on net neutrality weren't being called into question, though, it's undeniable that Google's conforming to the same terms of service as all the other ISPs. Which in turn shows that they're not quite as interested in innovation as it says. If it were, it'd at least allow some latitude for customers to use services that don't harm the network. It all inevitably looks like a case of too much legalese. "I really wish they'd step back for a second and let the lawyers go in the other room," Turner said. Maybe they could talk about what they're actually doing to help the cause of net neutrality -- one they used to fight for -- while they're in there. [Wired]