I already wrote about how much Google’s search monopoly worries me. Now there is one more reason to be wary of it – Google is officially, as a company, taking a position in the public debate on a social issue. This is more than unusual.

A few days ago a post appeared on Google’s official blog, signed by Sergey Brin saying that Google officially opposes proposition 8 that is to go under ballot in California.

No matter what we think of the issue at hand I think this is both unusual and very worrying if a corporation takes a stand on a social issue like this. It is even more dangerous if the company in question has a de-facto monopoly on search and strong position in other fields that influence what content gets through to the bulk of Internet users.

It is not to say that I’m sure Google is meddling with its search results or – say – YouTube content. But it is a possibility that is hard to dismiss. If Sergey Brin feels about an issue strongly enough to put the weight of his company behind his private opinion (as opposed to just his name) there will be a strong temptation to extend the “fight” with those holding a different position one step further. And if it happens it will be very hard to fight with. First, it would be very, very difficult to prove. And even if proven it would be fully legal, because being a private corporation Google is under no obligation to provide fair and balanced treatment to Internet content representing all opinions on issues of today.

I think in the long run this is a threat to freedom of opinion and expression on the Internet. For now, though, the only thing I can do is use Microsoft’s Live Search. And think of moving my e-mail off Google’s GMail.

I have to return to Amazon’s Kindle device for a moment today, because in my last post I didn’t cover some aspects of this device I find disturbing.

Not only it is totally proprietary and binds you to Amazon as the sole source of content – it also opens up a whole new set of possibilities for privacy invasion. First, Amazon knows about all the books you’ve read. And as the device is on-line all the time through a GSM network and knows who its owner is all kinds of things are possible: from gathering detailed statistics of what you read, when you read it, how fast you do it – and what notes you scribble – to tracking your whereabouts. Since the platform is totally closed there is no way whatsoever to verify what the device does and what it doesn’t.

But not only that – it would be also possible to retroactively alter publications. It could be seen as a good idea – manuals could be updated, errors could be corrected – but it can be also used to alter history, by for example removing mentions of someone or something from a newspaper days after it was “published”. This is purely Orwellian – the Ministry of Truth was doing exactly this.

Overall, I find this whole thing and the mindset behind it highly disturbing and dangerous. This can be best exposed by pushing this idea to its limit: let’s imagine it is immensely successful and everyone has one. Then everyone has only the books that come from Amazon, pays them for the right to read, there is no second-hand book market, no libraries too and Amazon knows who was reading what. All that is totally opposite to what a traditional book is – it is yours to keep, forever, no one knows what you read – you can walk into a bookstore and buy one totally anonymously – and you can lend it or give to anyone for free.

I think, in a nutshell, monetizing on everything and locking users into a proprietary platform on which they in fact don’t own anything, just pay for the right to read, is what I find most repulsive. Circulation of the written word has been limited until recently by the physical limitations of the books and newspapers. Now Internet removes those limitations – it should be an opportunity to make more available for free. There is something inherently wrong with the idea that you have to put a dime in for any page you read, any tune you listen to or any picture you see.