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(DV) Google-ized -- An Interview with Adam Engel







An Interview with Adam Engel 

by Kim Petersen
February 20, 2007

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On 23 January of this year, in response to censoring the highly information-packed website Uruknet [1], I sent an e-mail to Google News urging it to keep its internet search engine open. The same day, I received a format reply:

Thank you for your note about Google News. This is an automated response to let you know that we appreciate your interest and feedback. Please note that this email address is no longer active.

There was no follow-up from Google News.

Dissident Voice has expressed concerns about Google News' censorship. DV publisher and editor Sunil Sharma suspected that Google News was removing links because of pressure "from readers who don't want others to read the kinds of views expressed by . . . Dissident Voice generally." [2]

Google's unofficial slogan is "Don't be Evil." It seems that such a slogan should be applied to oneself above all. Evil aside, Google has put itself in a position of, what can only be construed as, being a censor of information; for example, its decision to violate the openness of the internet by censoring Uruknet from its news service, collaboration with Chinese regime [3], and removing certain sites from google ads, such as controversial Ziopedia. Yet Google has grown immensely in popularity as a search engine and email server. Its name has even become a verb for searching the internet.

Hotmail and Yahoo are also problematic e-mail accounts from a progressivist standpoint. So, what should progressives do to avoid entanglement with corporations that violate progressivist principles?

I turned to the computer-internet savvy Adam Engel.

Back in 2004, Engel wrote that corporations are in the process of "defining the 'personal computer' and how it's used in public and private, work, play and education."

Since this situation is untenable for critical thinkers, Engel warned, "Time to start rethinking things. We 'progressives,' who fill hundreds of websites with our words and images may be making a few corporations very rich in the process." [4]

Kim Petersen: Google is part of the corporate internet that has been criticized for censorship. What impact do you see such censorship having for users of the Internet?

Adam Engel: I think we should first recognize that this is not a "tech" issue, per se, as much as it is a market/commons issue; these questions can be answered in the pages of Michael McChesney or Michael Parenti as well as Richard Stallman. The bottom line with Google, Yahoo, or any other "free" service on the web is that they're owned by private corporations. Like "free" TV provided by CBS, NBC and ABC. Private corporations can, and will, do whatever they want, so long as it fits with the overall strategy of taking over the world or whatever their "unique" business plan happens to be. As long as users use search engines run by private corporations, they'll be in the same mess as users who use Microsoft Windows software: beholden to MegaCorp, its rules and regulations, its advertising, and overall right-wing Capitalist vision of the world. As the GNU Manifesto and similar documents explain, "free" does not mean "free beer," rather freedom to develop programs and documents and have the code/documentation made available for the public to study, learn from, and ultimately improve upon, creating a better version to be itself "CopyLefted" for the public good.

KP: How should progressives respond to the regressivist practices of Google and other large search engine and email websites? It seems that Yahoo and Hotmail are fraught with their own drawbacks. Are there alternatives?

AE: While much political content has passed over the lines since 1995, the most surprising thing to me is that the left has not discovered what many hackers discovered in the early nineties: there is an alternative, it's free, and it will never be "sold out." It's called GNU/Linux, and one typical installation contains literally thousands of applications (some of which might not be free but are never a necessary component of the system). Hence, countries like Brazil, India, and Venezuela are opting for GNU/Linux software for their educational systems, for unlike Microsoft, the many variations of GNU/Linux not only provide thousands of pages of documentation on every single "CopyLefted" program, websites for both beginners and gurus all over the world in nearly every language, various "GUI" (Graphic User Interface) options that enable even first-time computer users to navigate the "desktop" as they would a Mac or Windows OS, etc., etc., etc. All for free or a one-time fee for the material disks which can be used again and again on various machines by various users, as opposed to the "single user" licenses of Mac and Microsoft. Some distributors package the thousands of programs and documentation options under a "brand" name, such as "Fedora" or "SuSE," and use proprietary installation systems for beginners. These disks can cost anywhere from five dollars to $200, but only the "proprietary" software is charged and/or restricted. One can also download GNU/Linux free, if one has a lot of bandwidth, or buy CDs and DVDs for as little as five dollars (again, for unlimited "licensing," as opposed to Microsoft's $150/single user license, not including office software, of which there are several free GNU/Linux versions that are as good as MS OFFICE or better, for free (as opposed to $400 per "single user license" etc.)

KP: Do you have any caveats or recommendations for progressives about the internet?

AE: Instead of going on and on about what GNU/Linux, the operating system, as well as GNU, the association, the Free Software Foundation, and the many free software projects as well as freedom of speech and CopyLeft -- where all benefit, as opposed to "copyright" -- has meant, and still means, to the Internet's phenomenal growth -- whether one is aware of it or not -- the best I can do is refer you to the GNU Manifesto, and CopyLeft licensing theory, and other aspects of the user's, not the Corporation's, rights to free and open computing, with the URLS of GNU, www.gnu.org, the Free Software Foundation, www.fsf.org, and the Linux Documentation project, at www.tldp.org.

Ultimately, the difference between GNU/Linux and Free Software, and Mac/Windows and "Open Source" or "Proprietary" software is the difference between the two faces of Capitalism, the Democrats and Republicans, and the many faces of socialism, anarchism, and anything that puts people, communication, creativity and knowledge over profit. In my opinion, GNU/Linux, CopyLeft and the Free Software Foundation are the ONLY options for leftists and progressives (and anyone else who values quality, creativity, excellence and truth over hype, corporate secrecy, and PR/marketing).

KP: So by turning to GNU/Linux progressives can escape the effects of the corporate internet; GNU/Linux solves the problem of regressivist email sites and search engines? 
AE: Right now, I'd say that more than 90 percent of my email is junk or SPAM. Commercial security programs like MacAfee try to sell me a fix, but having once worked as a systems administrator for a giant law firm trying to prevent workers from visiting porn sites, I know that the general population of users is always ahead of individual companies. Do we really NEED to search every site on the Web, or is that another Capitalist come-on? Do we really need to build bigger, more complex mail programs that gobble up memory and PAY for "mail defense?" Or do we need to work for privacy, individual user rights, etc.? Ultimately, what I'm saying is that GNU/Linux develops more slowly now only because the programmers, though the best in the world, are mostly volunteers,  but because, not playing the capitalist game of one-upmanship and keeping up with the Joneses, the programs GNU/Linux develops are more practical and geared toward the greater good, like the GNOME and KDE Desktops, and Open Office office suite, which are not only on par with those created by Mac/Windows, but also can be modulated from scratch by knowledgeable individuals. That's the brilliance of GNU/Linux -- you're collaborating with the best programmers/designers etc. from all over the world.  GNU/Linux grew with the Web, yet many users still use text-based mail programs because they're faster, lighter, use less memory, and often more practical. 
Leftism/Progressivism/Socialism are never the easy way out, otherwise they'd be more popular. If you're a beginner, though you can start on the GUI right away, it might take you some time to learn how to work the finer points of the operating system. But the price of the extra effort is not only "computer freedom," but a greater knowledge of your rights in the general marketplace. Also, if instead of paying for upgrades etc. as slaves to Mac/Windows MUST do, Linux users can hire programmers to build/rebuild/fix their system. Suddenly, the idea of small businesspeople called on to do programming, networking and various other jobs ultimately makes GNU/Linux much more viable economically, when looking at the big picture, than MAC/Windows with their "exclusive" contracts and "forced" upgrades. Also: hardware. Notice how all this new Windows "gaming" software requires faster, more powerful computers. More more more bigger bigger bigger faster faster faster. Well, if all you want or need to do is run a word-processor, a web browser and a mail program, possibly some graphics and sound plug-ins, etc., you can get by on an "old" (more than 5 years) machine without too much trouble. Everything is customizable with GNU/Linux. As in every other aspect of life, stay away from for-profit, anti-creative corporatism. Whether we're talking computers or "global warming," it's people versus profit, we versus "it," life versus death. 
Again, I urge people to read the GNU Manifesto, CopyLeft, GNU Public License (GPL) and other GNU/Linux and FSF literature to see how shocking it is that GNU Linux didn't become standard fare for ALL leftists ten year ago. Already, Apache Servers on Linux run a great deal of websites.

Adam Engel worked as a Unix Systems and Network Administrator and contributed technical articles to magazines such as e-consultancy and The Linux Gazette. He writes frequently for Counter Punch, Dissident Voice and other sites and zines and can be reached at bartleby.samsa@verizon.net.

Kim Petersen, Co-Editor of Dissident Voice, lives in southern Korea. He promises to switch to GNU/Linux when he returns to his home computer. He can be reached at: kim@dissidentvoice.org


[1] Action Alert! Google did it again! (Updated: Google's reply. Kind of!)," Uruknet, 20 January 2007.

[2] Sunil Sharma, "What's Up With Google News? Is a Left Critique of 'Fahrenheit 9/11' Not Okay for Mass Consumption?," Dissident Voice, 29 June 2004.

[3] C. L., "Cook Melt Down: Google's China Syndrome," PEJ News, 5 February 2006.

[4] Adam Engel, "Free as in Freedom (Part One): GNU/Linux," Dissident Voice, 28 December 2004. See also the follow-up: Adam Engel, "Free as in Freedom, Part Two: 'New Linux'," Dissident Voice, 17 February 2005.


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