Internet bosses target G8 leaders

25th May 2011, Comments 0 comments

Internet bosses from Google and other top firms set out from their "e-G8" summit Wednesday to take G8 world leaders to task over sensitive issues such as online copyright and freedoms.

The executives discussed proposals for governments to provide Internet access to citizens and not regulate online content, but there was much disagreement and the two-day gathering wound up with no official declaration.

Host Maurice Levy of the Publicis advertising group said he would lead an e-G8 delegation, including Google's Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, which would pin down final proposals and hand them to G8 leaders Thursday at their summit in Deauville, northwestern France.

"We are going to work up to the last moment on the e-G8 communique," Levy said, adding that they would have time to work aboard the aeroplane they would take for the short trip to Deauville.

"We are not going to Deauville with a list of grievances but to share a certain vision," he said, wrapping up the gathering, which at times looked like a face-off between the powers that be, big business and web rebels.

Levy did not specify the points that might feature on the e-G8's recommendations, but the liveliest moments of the Paris gathering focussed on balancing the Internet's moneymaking and job-creating potential against the drive to prevent online crime.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy kicked off the summit on Tuesday, hailing their "Internet revolution" but warning that some degree of government regulation was inevitable to avoid "democratic chaos".

Schmidt and other big company bosses warned against hasty regulation for fear of choking off innovation, while civil society groups slammed the gathering as a threat to a free Internet.

The online revolution reached the top level of world leadership when Facebook pioneer Mark Zuckerberg met Sarkozy Wednesday.

The 27-year-old American founder of the social networking site -- on which Sarkozy himself has a page for his online "friends" -- visited the Elysee presidential palace in a suit and tie and appeared later in jeans and a T-shirt on stage at the e-G8.

He was diplomatic about the meeting with Sarkozy, a day after the president ruffled feathers with his line on Internet regulation.

"It was fun," the young New Yorker told the gathering. "I understand where he's coming from. I appreciate the chance to be here and be part of the dialogue."

In a half-empty meeting hall after Zuckerberg's exit, top media bosses in their closing session were broadly in favour of the headline proposals that governments should not regulate online content but should protect intellectual property rights online, but did not hammer out a final line to take to the G8.

Media rights and civil society groups complained that the forum was giving a voice mainly to big businesses and it boded ill for online freedom.

"President Sarkozy's disastrous design for the Internet has become glaringly apparent," web freedom group Access Now said in a statement Wednesday.

"The world's most developed economies (the G8) are poised to impose strict copyright enforcement and heavy-handed government regulation of the Internet," it added.

With blogs and Tweets oiling the wheels of revolution in some countries, and scans and downloads sparking trade disputes in others, the stakes are high for leaders seeking to profit from the web but also to rein in online crime.

Zuckerberg refused to take credit for enabling the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt by protestors coordinating online.

"Facebook was neither necessary nor sufficient for any of those things to happen," he said.

"I think a better example than those revolutions is that now heads of state have pages on Facebook" to communicate with their people, he added.

© 2011 AFP

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