It was the only right (ethical) choice that I had. You see I went down to google’s new york office tonight to see a colleague of mine speak on the future of the internet. I thought it was an open invite without any specific rules as to what I could do with the knowledge that I found there. I registered and attended until Google asserted the rules.
Sometimes… Google gets it wrong. You see I did not have any prior ruleset to know that they do not allow people to blog or otherwise publish their visit to such talks. They did not send one, it was not in any announcement that I received, and I’ve otherwise not seen one. However, there is a set of rules that prohibit blogging or publishing that they announced before the talk. Google said that if i wanted to blog or publicly discuss the event, I had to get their permission. If I’d have known, I would not have attended or been affiliated with the event in any way. I am a professor, was and still am, and by the very nature of my job, i cannot guarantee that I will follow their rules about publication or blogging. I couldn’t consent to them, so I had to leave. I don’t want to have to ask google for permission to speak about something that I already know a good deal about and am perfectly happy dashing an email off to colleagues to learn more. I don’t want to be obliged to them for any intellectual content or public knowledge at all beyond the general service they provide.
The rational that google said justified this request for secrecy and the privatization of knowledge was one of collegiality. I found that justification to be ironic. Colleagues share within the limits of their judgment. Collegiality is broken as soon as the judgment is turned into a ruleset, as soon as trust becomes moot and i no longer have to trust you, instead i just have to trust that you are following the pre-ordained rules. At that point in time of the announcement of rules, anyone in the room could be called colleagues, afterwards we were all subjects to Google and any collegiality was limited by Google’s rules. We were all constructed as lesser beings, less equal, more likely to damage others. We were ‘other’, and untrustworthy, which is the implication of the ‘no blogging’. If you want people to be friends, to become a community, you have to let them communicate, you have to let them establish the common ground by consent.
Thus I had to leave, as I was not going to be subject of Google beyond what I’ve already contracted. I could not consent to silence. I am surprised that the speaker in question would allow this rule, but not that surprised in the end.
Please if you have a talk where people who take ethics seriously are present, never change the rules after the fact, make them public beforehand.
Now I know 2 things,
1. Google changes the rules of public engagement to suit it’s own interpretations
2. Before I attend any future Google event, I should ask for clearly defined rules to be made public and distributed, so that I can decide to either be complicit or not beforehand.