Why Google is important for freedom

Published: September 20, 2011
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It came as a shock to many when Interior minister Rehman Malik indicated possible closure of Google and YouTube in Pakistan.

It came as a shock to many when interior minister Rehman Malik indicated that Google and YouTube could possibly be shut in Pakistan. Most businesses, particularly those that promote Pakistani businesses in Pakistan and abroad online, knowledge seekers, researchers and students use Google and YouTube as a vital tool in their daily lives.

For any techie, this report in the press was a little amusing.

According to the reports, Malik announced that the government reserves the right to ban Google and YouTube in Pakistan if the ‘Google administrator’ does not assist them in their criminal investigations. Perhaps he forgotten that the Pakistan’s cyber crime law, under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Ordinance, has lapsed in November 2009.

The only watchdog with regulating powers that we have is the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA). Last May, under court orders, PTA banned Facebook, YouTube, Flicker and Wikipedia. On a TV show the PTA chairman said that he tried his best to convince the judge against the ban but he failed – perhaps this was due to the lack of technical knowledge and appreciation of the cost how the ban would damage for Pakistan’s reputation.

There are around 22 million Google users in Pakistan – which is an approximate 95% market share.

The latest statement by the Interior Minister has, thus, caused a lot of concern among all those will be impacted by this decision. Perhaps the two most affected communities will be businesses and students at universities.

I’ll briefly try to analyze the situation in case such an action is taken against Google – the consequences, as listed below, will be immense.

Impact on businesses:

One must remember that Google is not just a search engine. It also provides email services like Gmail, document sharing services, Google docs, advertisement service, Adwords, a blogging platform, Blogger, and many others.

With a ban on Google, all these services will also be blocked. This means that businesses will not be able to index their websites on the Google search engine, and all Gmail and Adword accounts will be suspended too causing an unprecedented financial loss to the business community in Pakistan.

One example is the car tracking companies in the country that use Google Maps did Rehman Malik consider the consequences of not having car tracking systems in the country?

Impact on knowledge seekers and students:

Without a doubt, Google is the most used search engine in Pakistan.  It provides access to information through Web2.0. All major educational institutions such as Virtual University, IBA, FAST, IBA Sukkur, and so on are using Google Apps – what will happen to them in case of a ban on Google?

According to a study conducted by the University of Punjab, Google is the preferred search engine in Pakistan for academic research. Banning Google in Pakistan would mean significantly reducing the access to information for research and innovation.

Can anyone quantify this loss?

Moreover, such a ban will not only cause massive damage to Pakistan’s image, but it will also limit the opportunities for encouraging innovation in the country. I would also like to highlight here that appreciating Pakistan’s technology excellence, Google recently announced a USD250,000 fund for technology innovation, an initiative which will support the technology sector in a big way.

In the end, my view is that banning Google in Pakistan will not only hurt the information technology sector, the business community as a whole will suffer immensely too. The reason for this is simple; information technology is now integrated with almost every business in the country.

Hammad Siddiqui

Hammad Siddiqui

An institutional capacity building specialist who currently works as Deputy Country Director at Center of International Private Enterprise (www.cipe.org). He is qualified from the US Chamber of Commerce and blogs at hammadsiddiquiblog.com

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.