Sarkozy hails Internet barons at 'e-G8'

24th May 2011, Comments 0 comments

The heads of top Internet firms such as Google and Microsoft met in Paris on Tuesday at the first "e-G8" summit, touting the power of the web to world leaders amid concerns over copyright and censorship.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy kicked off the gathering in Paris, hailing the assembled players as the leaders of the "Internet revolution", but warning that with their power comes great responsibility.

He hailed the role of the Internet in recent uprisings such as the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt, but insisted online activity must be governed by "rules," prompting a scornful reaction from web users commenting live online.

"The states we represent need to make it known that the world you represent is not a parallel universe where legal and moral rules ... that govern society in democratic countries do not apply," Sarkozy told the assembled executives.

"Democratic governments also have things to say."

Web users commenting on the messaging site Twitter were largely unimpressed, interpreting Sarkozy's speech as a bid for government control of the web.

"An exercise in censorship and control dressed up as a technology summit," wrote one user, Tweeting under the tag "fffffat".

Top executives from online giants including Facebook, Ebay and Amazon attended the gathering to tout the economic potential of the Internet, which Sarkozy has put on the agenda of the G8 summit he will host this week.

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.

Authorities in several countries have clashed with Google, the world's biggest Internet search engine and advertising platform, notably in China, where the firm accuses the government of hacking dissidents' email accounts.

And, while acknowledging the net's power as a force for freedom elsewhere, western countries differ on how to harness or curb it on their own doorsteps.

A recent French law made web users liable to prosecution if they illegally download films and music.

Sarkozy touted the meetings of the e-G8 and the G8 as an unprecedented meeting of the online and political worlds.

He convened the e-G8 to draw up a declaration aimed at Group of Eight leaders who will meet at their annual summit on Thursday and Friday in the northern French resort of Deauville.

The e-G8 guests include the executive chairman of Google, Eric Schmidt; the founder of social networking site Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg; and Jeff Bezos, founder of online retail giant Amazon.

Also attending is Rupert Murdoch, the billionaire head of the global media empire News Corporation, which includes Fox News and the Wall Street Journal, and dubbed by Forbes magazine "the man who owns the news."

Sarkozy hosted 22 of the biggest players for lunch at the Elysee Palace. Murdoch was due to address the gathering later on Tuesday.

Representatives from consultancy McKinsey told the gathering the Internet sector accounted for 3.4 percent of output and 10 percent of growth in the past five years in 13 key economies including the G8 and China.

"Your work can be considered historic and impacts civilisation," Sarkozy told delegates.

"With this in mind, your level of responsibility is undoubtedly the highest ever given to individuals who do not work in the public sector or as state representatives."

In the first session of the summit, Schmidt and other executives debated the economic stakes and the issue of regulation with France's Finance Minister Christine Lagarde.

Amid much lauding of the potential of an unfettered Internet, Lagarde begged to differ on whether governments should be allowed to regulate content, warning that no regulation meant "chaos."

"The Internet is a remarkably resilient and creative place," Schmidt responded. "Clearly we want some regulation for the evil stuff, but I would be careful about regulating the Internet."

© 2011 AFP

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