I worry about Germany and technology. I fear that protectionism from institutions that have been threatened by the internet — mainly media giants and government — and the perception of a rising tide of technopanic in the culture will lead to bad law, unnecessary regulation, dangerous precedents, and a hostile environment that will make technologists, investors, and partners wary of investing and working in Germany.
I worry, too, about Europe and technology. Germany’s antiprogress movement is spreading to the EU — see its court’s decision creating a so-called right to be forgotten — as well as to members of the EU — see Spain’s link tax.
I worry mostly about damage to the internet, its freedoms and its future, limiting the opportunities an open net presents to anyone anywhere. Three forces are at work endangering the net: control, protectionism, and technopanic.
Control is a global issue. Governments from China to Iran and Russia to Turkey are restricting what their citizens may see and say online. Telecom companies in the United States are trying to undermine the net’s neutral architecture to dictate users’ choices. Also in the United States, as revealed by Edward Snowden, the NSA has gained unprecedented control over lines of communication and staggering amounts of data about citizens of any nation.
Protectionism is at the core of the German problem. News publishers, led by Axel Springer and its CEO, Mathias Döpfner, have waged war on Google as their convenient bogeyman of the digital age. "Googlephobia," The Economist calls the campaign, "short-sighted and self-defeating." The publishers have used their considerable political power and influence to enlist government in their battle.
Thus Germany has extended copyright law with its Leistungsschutzrecht. The publishers’ apparent argument is that when Google quotes their work to link to it, the search engine is stealing their content. But these publishers know better. They surely realize, as Google vice president Rachel Whetstone has blogged, that the search engine sends 10 billion clicks a month to 60,000 publishers’ sites, giving them the opportunity to build relationships of value with those users.
The real problem is that newspapers, magazines, and television around the world have failed to build those rich and personal relationships and to mine the many opportunities the net brings them. They have insisted on trying to preserve their mass-media economics, which values only volume — that is, how many eyeballs see an ad. They resent that Google has changed the business model of media, offering users greater relevance and value and offering marketers a better deal based on performance rather than scale.