Liberty by Design
published: July 26, 2010, recorded: November 2009, views: 2536
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Recalling a lecture he gave at MIT in 2005, Alan Davidson returns to the questions of the impact of public policy on the way technology is evolving in the Internet space.
Instead of viewing it as a lawyer for a public policy interest group—his previous role—he now approaches it from his new perspective as a public policy advisor to Google's engineering design group, counseling them on how to build products and run a business. He encourages his fellow engineers "to think broadly […] about their role in the world […], to be more than bench-tied engineers and more involved in the deep social debates of the time."
These questions remain: What are the big issues facing the Internet and, specifically, Google; and what are the lessons that have been learned? The old Conventional Wisdom said censorship could not be stopped, only contained. But Davidson believes that in the last 10-15 years there has been a backlash from governments, large institutions, and influential economic actors. The new Conventional Wisdom is: "You don't think we can regulate the Internet? Watch us!"
As the Internet revolution advances in processing and storage power, in the ability to network with anyone anywhere in the world, and with device mobility—PCs vs. remote devices, Davidson uses a half a dozen real-life examples from his experience at Google to illustrate their win-win solutions. Using screenshots, he describes the products and shows how the engineers and policy makers worked together to create solutions dealing with privacy, copyright/intellectual property, and censorship issues.
While the solutions lie in building products that address these issues, the challenges lie in raising the issues proactively in the engineering process or by being able to influence regulation and business decisions. The engineers build the product, the public policy experts advise, but they work as partners. By balancing matters of individual freedoms against government and economic interests, Davidson is certain that choices made today will define the kind of Internet we will have in 10 years.
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