DUBLIN (Reuters) – Internet giant Google’s tussles with some governments over Internet censorship could get worse, Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt said on Monday, adding he feared his own colleagues faced mounting danger of occasional arrest and torture.
After the “Arab spring” saw revolutionary crowds largely organised over the Internet topple leaders in Tunisia and Egypt, governments in other authoritarian states have moved to try to lock down Internet dissent — although with mixed success.
Google has long had issues with China over restricted use of the Internet and partially pulled out of the world’s largest Internet market by users last year over censorship concerns and a computer hacking attempt it said it traced to the country.
The chairman of the world’s largest web search engine warned that in certain countries governments would try to make sure the Internet became as regulated as television.
“I think this problem is going to get worse,” Schmidt told a Google-organised Dublin summit on militant violence.
“The reason is that as the technology becomes more pervasive and as the citizenry becomes completely wired and the content gets localised to the language of the country, it becomes an issue like television.”
“If you look at television in most of these countries, television is highly regulated because the leaders, partial dictators, half dictators or whatever you want to call them understand the power of television imagery to keep their citizenry in some bucket.”
Google’s friction with China resurfaced this month when it said it had broken up an effort to steal the passwords of hundreds of Google email account holders, including U.S. government officials, Chinese human rights advocates and journalists.
It said the attacks appeared to come from China, although stopped short of alleging official involvement. Chinese Foreign Ministry officials angrily rejected any China link, saying they were as much a victim as anyone else of hacking and cyber attacks.
Schmidt also said employees of the company were in danger of arrest and possible torture in certain parts of the world that deem material that appears on its search engine to be illegal.
He would not directly name the countries because of the sensitivity of the situation, the former Google CEO said.
“There are countries where it is illegal to do things that Google encourages. In those countries, there is a real possibility of (employees) being put in prison for reasons which are not their fault.”
Google executive Wael Ghonim was detained by Egyptian authorities after having been kept blindfolded for two weeks at the height of protests in Cairo that toppled President Hosni Mubarak and were largely organised over the Internet.
Other activists said Ghonim had been involved in founding an activist anti-torture Facebook page that was an early rallying point for Egyptian protesters.
During the uprising, Google launched a service to help Egyptians use Twitter despite Internet restrictions by dialling a telephone number and leaving a voice mail that would then be sent on to the online service.