e-G8 to G8: Do No Harm
"Do no harm." That was blogger Jeff Jarvis's challenge to French President Nicolas Sarkozy at the e-G8 in Paris this week. As writer/tech investor Esther Dyson tweeted, "#eg8 now officially open: @jeffjarvis has asked a question."
Borrowing from the Hippocratic Oath and cautioning against Internet regulation, Jeff's exchange with the president helped set the stage for two days of robust, frank, sometimes heated, but always civil discussions on what the G8 leaders should do -- or not do -- relative to the Internet Revolution.
The e-G8 conference, which immediately preceded the G8, was Sarkozy's brainchild. Chaired by Publicis Chairman and CEO Maurice Levy, the e-G8 brought together 1,200 delegates and speakers from around the world to discuss and debate topics like the Internet's impact on economic growth, entrepreneurship, privacy, intellectual copyright, security and globalization.
There were a wide range of participants. Speaking panels, though light on women and regulators, were full of high-profile names: media leaders like Rupert Murdoch, Arthur Sulzberger, Jon-Bernard Levy of Vivendi and Hartmut Ostrowski of Bertlesmann; tech leaders like Eric Schmidt, Niklas Zennstrom, and Mark Zuckerberg; government leaders like French Finance Minister (and candidate for IMF Presidency Christine Largarde) and French cultural Minister Frederic Mitterand; nonprofit tech leaders like Jimmy Wales, Mitchell Baker, John Perry Barlow and Klaus Schwab; and investors like Yuri Milner, Sean Parker and Accel's Joe Schoendorf.
While the debate was healthy and there were divergent views on a number of topics, some common themes came through. They included:
Internet=growth. The Internet is a critical driver of growth for all of our economies. It will create the future jobs we need, and most of those jobs will come from small companies and start-ups.
Access is everything. Access to the Internet at high speeds is critical for everyone. Insuring that high-speed Internet access is available to everyone in the world should be a short-term goal for governments.
Regulation will certainly have unintended (and bad) consequences. Not everyone was as strong on this issue as Jeff Jarvis, but all agreed generally with the core message here: do not over-regulate the Internet. You might break it.
There were also some points of significant debate and disagreement:
Intellectual property protection. Large, incumbent media companies wanted more vigorous enforcement of digital copyrights. Others, most notably Barlow (former Grateful Dead lyricist and co-founder of the EFF) had the crowd clearly on his side arguing that Draconian enforcement of digital copyrights restricts free speech, hinders innovation and is being pressed by publishers with out-of-date business models.
Privacy protection. Privacy came up in probably half of the sessions (including a panel on data in which I participated). Almost everyone recognized that Internet companies need to do a better job of informing users about the data they capture and what they do with it. Many voiced frustrations with the significantly different approaches between the U.S. and Europe. Many held out hope for technical solutions, such as tools like Mozilla's Do-Not-Track extension for their Firefox browser.
Role of government. Sarkozy opened the conference both championing the importance of the Internet for economic growth, but also informing Internet companies that national governments need to be respected and more involved in these activities. He argued that issues like security, infrastructure investments, entrepreneurship promotion and education were all areas where governments needs to be very involved.
Net. Net. It was a couple of days of extraordinary conversations. What will be the impact of those conversations on the discussions of the heads-of-state in Deauville, France over the next day or two? Realistically, it will only be modest, I suspect. However, in virtually every session, there was talk about the role of the Internet and social media platforms in the revolutions that toppled governments in the Arab world. These folks are politicians. I suspect that they will figure it out pretty quickly. What do you think?