The three software giants today (Oct. 29) announced creation of the Global Network Initiative designed to persuade oppressive governments to allow their citizens to freely express opinions, via the Web in particular, without fear of
Participating companies must agree to "respect and protect the freedom of expression rights of their users when confronted with government demands, laws and regulations to suppress freedom of expression, remove content or otherwise limit access to information and ideas in a manner inconsistent with internationally recognized laws and standards," says the new group's guidelines.
Yahoo helped launch the initiative after becoming one of several technology companies criticized for how they deal with restrictions on speech in foreign countries. Yahoo was accused of giving the Chinese government information about users that led to the jailing of dissidents. Google has been criticized for filtering search results to comply with demands from the Chinese government. MSN and Yahoo also filter search results to comply with Chinese government
GNI members said they commit to protect freedom of expression and privacy, partner with others for collective governance and accountability, and spread their objectives around the globe. They agreed to require governments to put information requests in writing and to interpret those requests as narrowly as possible.
Don't expect any radical chances results any time soon: companies joining the
initiative (at a cost of $100,000) have two years from the time they sign on to prove they're following the guidelines. It is unclear, however, the consequences a company faces if they join the initiative but fail to meet these guidelines.
1. A "ubiquitous network society" or "collective intelligence" is emerging from the Internet and Web 2.0, allowing for better and quicker response to crises and problems. The use of crowd sourcing is one such example. With so much information out there, will the global economy begin to put a higher premium on other skills, such as empathy? (BusinessWeek has made this argument, too.)
2. The Web is allowing companies and operations to move from an international model to a multinational model to a truly global model in which data are processed in multiple places, through cloud computing, for example. As John Ruggie mentioned at the Carnegie Council this week, the speed and scope of business has surpassed traditional governing organizations like states. How do we keep up
3. Web 2.0 can help mitigate risk (as well as create new risks) in many areas, including supply chain, brand, and public relations. Lines between competition and cooperation are blurred as are those between friends and enemies. How do we better facilitate these interactions, for example to boost the "integrity of the crowds," as I would put it. This point was brought up by Andrew Zolli at our Web 2.0 panel at the Carnegie Council.
4. Finally, ethical leadership or "courageous leadership," as Kurihara put it, will be needed to resolve the paradoxes and ethical dilemmas posed by Web 2.0. Zolli made a similar point at our panel by saying that ethical leadership is the fastest mover affecting brand value. The others are about stewardship--social and environmental.
(Photo collage from Japan Society of Kurihara, Griffy-Brown, Pearson, and me.)