In Search of Alterity: On Google, Neutrality and Otherness

  • Marcelo Thompson
Part of the Information Technology and Law Series book series (ITLS, volume 22)


This article questions the normative context and politico-regulatory implications of Google’s stance on network neutrality—the idea that Internet service providers should not discriminate packets of data on the Internet according to their source, content, or destination. While much has already been said on network neutrality, Google’s own normative universe in this regard has been left somewhat untouched. As this article will show, inquiring into Google’s formal stance on network neutrality raises important questions on the regulation of Google’s own activities—generally subsumed in the idea of search, on the idea of neutrality itself, what it means for politics, the state and agency in general, and on the type of political system we may wish to live with in the information age. The article answers these questions, laying out some assertive conclusions about Google’s stances already at the outset. These conclusions are deepened as the article unfolds.


Search Engine Supra Note Information Environment Network Management Federal Communication Commission 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



I am happy to acknowledge the generous support of the Alcatel-Lucent Foundation for my position as a Visiting Fellow at the Hans Bredow Institute for Media Research, University of Hamburg, where the first thoughts that led to this paper were conceived. The ideas expressed in the lines below, however, have to no extent been influenced by my institutional affiliation at that time beyond the boundaries of open (and discerning) academic exchange. I thank Wolfgang Schulz and Victoria Nash for thoughtful comments on earlier notes.


  1. Ammori M, Crawford S, Wu T (2010) Submission to the Federal Communications Commission at 7-8. In re Preserving the Open Internet, GN Docket No. 09-191; Broadband Industry Practices, WC Docket No. 07-52; A National Broadband Plan for Our Future, GN Docket No. 09-51Google Scholar
  2. Argenton C, Prüfer J (2011) Search engine competition with network externalities, TILEC Discussion Paper, DP 2011-024. Accessed 1 Sept 2011
  3. Battelle J (2006) The search: how Google and its rivals rewrote the rules of business and transformed our culture. Portfolio, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  4. Benkler Y (1998) Overcoming agoraphobia: building the commons of the digitally networked environment. Harvard J Law & Technol 11:287–400Google Scholar
  5. Benkler Y (2001) Siren songs and Amish children: autonomy, information, and law. N Y U L Rev 76:23Google Scholar
  6. Benkler Y (2002) Coase’s penguin, or, Linux and the nature of the firm. Yale L J 112:369CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Benkler Y (2006) The wealth of networks: how social production transforms markets and freedom. Yale University Press, New HavenGoogle Scholar
  8. Boorstin B (2010) Promoting free trade for the internet economy. Accessed 1 Sept 2011
  9. Boyd D, Yardi S (2010) Dynamic debates: an analysis of group polarization over time on Twitter. Bull Sci Technol Soc 30(5):316–32CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bracha O, Pasquale F (2008) Accountability in the law of search. Cornell L Rev 93:1149–1210Google Scholar
  11. Bradner S (1996) The internet standards practice—revision 3, IETF, RFC 2026, Accessed 1 Sept 2011
  12. Brazilian Internet Steering Committee ( (2009) Principles for the Governance and use of the internet, Resolution Accessed 1 Sept 2011
  13. Brownsword R (2008) Rights, regulation and the technological revolution. Oxford University Press, OxfordCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Cheung A (2009) Rethinking public privacy in the internet era: a study of virtual persecution by the Internet crowd. The J Media Law 1(2):191–217Google Scholar
  15. Chomsky N (1965) Aspects of the theory of Syntax. MIT Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  16. Comcast Corp. v. FCC, 600 F.3d 642 (D.C. Cir. 2010)Google Scholar
  17. Conover M et al. (2011) Political polarization on Twitter, paper presented at the fifth international AAAI conference on weblogs and social media (Jul. 17–21),
  18. Davidson A and Tauke T (2010) A joint policy proposal for an open internet. Accessed 1 Sept 2011
  19. Dep’t of Justice & Fed. Trade Comm’n (2010) Horizontal Merger. Accessed 1 Sept 2011
  20. Dep’t of Justice and Fed. Trade Comm’n (1995) Antitrust Guidelines for the Licensing of Intellectual Property. Accessed 1 Sept 2011
  21. Dickson J (2001) Evaluation and legal theory. Hart Publishing, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  22. Drummond D (2010) A new approach to China. Accessed 1 Sept 2011
  23. European Commission (2010) Press release, antitrust: commission probes allegations of antitrust violations by Google. Accessed 1 Sept 2011
  24. Falcão J (2003) Globalização e judiciário: a internalização das normas de nomes de nomínio. In: Lemos R, Waisberg I (eds) Conflitos Sobre Nomes de Domínio: e Outras Questões Jurídicas da Internet. Revista dos Tribunais, São Paulo, p 15Google Scholar
  25. Federal Communications Commission (2005) In re Appropriate framework for broadband access to the internet over wireline facilities; (…) appropriate regulatory treatment for broadband access to the internet over cable facilities, policy statement, 20 FCC Rcd at 14986Google Scholar
  26. Federal Communications Commission (2008) Formal complaint of free press and public knowledge against Comcast Corporation for secretly degrading peer-to-peer applications, memorandum opinion and order, 23 F.C.C.R. 13028Google Scholar
  27. Federal Communications Commission (2009) In re Preserving the open internet: broadband industry practices, notice of proposed rulemaking, 24 FCC Rcd. 13064Google Scholar
  28. Federal Communications Commission (2010) In re Preserving the open internet: broadband industry practices, report and order, 25 FCC Rcd 17905Google Scholar
  29. Finnis J (1980) Natural law and natural rights. Clarendon Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  30. Finnis J (2005) The foundations of practical reason revisited. Am J Juris 50:109Google Scholar
  31. Galston WA (1991) Liberal purposes: goods, virtues, and diversity in the liberal state. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  32. Gilbert R, Rubinfeld D (2011) Revising the horizontal merger guidelines: lessons from the US and the EU. In: Faure M, Zhang X (eds) Competition policy and regulation: recent developments in China, Europe and the US. Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, p 262Google Scholar
  33. Google Inc. (2009) A guide to net neutrality for Google users. Accessed 1 Sept 2011
  34. Google Inc. (2010) Comments of Google Inc., In re Preserving the open internet Broadband industry practices, GN Docket No. 09-191, WC Docket No. 07-52. Accessed 1 Sept 2011
  35. Google Inc. (2011) Transparency report. Accessed 1 Sept 2011
  36. Grimmelmann J (2007) The structure of search engine law. Iowa Law Rev 93:1–63Google Scholar
  37. Holt J (1992) Magna Carta. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  38. Hurka T (1996) Perfectionism. Oxford University Press, OxfordCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Hurka T (2003) Vice, virtue, and value. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  40. Internet Society (2010) Open inter-networking. Accessed 1 Sept 2011
  41. Labovitz C (2010) Google sets new Internet traffic record. Accessed 1 Sept 2011
  42. Landler M (2010) Google searches for a foreign policy. Accessed 1 Sept 2011
  43. Law J (2002) Objects and spaces. Theory, Cult & Soc 19(5–6):9Google Scholar
  44. Lessig L (2001) The future of ideas: the fate of the commons in a connected world. Vintage Books, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  45. Luhmann N (2004) Law as a social system. Oxford University Press, Oxford (Klaus A. Ziegert transl.; Fatima Kastner, Richard Nobles, David Schiff & Rosamund Ziegert eds.)M v Home Office [1994] 1 AC 377Google Scholar
  46. Mayer-Schönberger V (2009) Delete: the virtue of forgetting in the digital age. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  47. Murray A (2007) The regulation of cyberspace: control in the online environment. Routledge, LondonGoogle Scholar
  48. N.Y. Times (2010) Editorial, The Google algorithm. Accessed 1 Sept 2011
  49. N.Y. Times (2011) Editorial, Investigating Google. Accessed 01 Sept 2011
  50. National Cable & Telecommunications Ass’n v. Brand X Internet Services, 545 U.S. 967 (2005)Google Scholar
  51. Nissenbaum H, Introna L (2000) Shapping the web: why the politics of search engines matters. The Inf Soc 16(3):169CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Nozick R (1974) Anarchy, state, and Utopia. Basic Books, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  53. Pasquale F (2010) Dominant search engines: an essential cultural & political facility. In: Szoka B, Marcus A (eds) The next digital decade: essays on the future of the internet. TechFreedom, Washington, D.C., p 401Google Scholar
  54. Paul Mockapetris, Domain Names—Concepts and Facilities, IETF, RFC 1034 (Nov., 1997),
  55. Paul R (2011) Android openness withering as Google withholds Honeycomb. Accessed 1 Sept 2011
  56. Pollock R (2010) Is Google the next Microsoft: competition, welfare and regulation in online search. Rev Netw Econ 9:4–29 Article 4Google Scholar
  57. Raz J (1986) The morality of freedom. Clarendon Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  58. Raz J (1994) Ethics and the public domain. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  59. Raz J (2004) Incorporation by law. Leg Theory 10(1):9Google Scholar
  60. Samuelson P, Nimmer D (2011) The amended google book settlement: Judge Chin’s decision. Accessed 1 Sept 2011
  61. Say JB (1855) A Treatise on Political Economy. Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, LondonGoogle Scholar
  62. Schlick A (2010) A third-way legal framework for addressing the Comcast dilemma. Accessed 1 Sept 2011
  63. Schmidt E, McAdam L (2009) Finding common ground in an open Internet. Accessed 1 Sept 2011
  64. Searls D, Weinberger D (2003) World of ends: what the Internet is and how to stop mistaking it for something else. Accessed 1 Sept 2011
  65. Smith B, Microsoft Corporation (2011) Adding our voice to concerns about search in Europe. Accessed 1 Sept 2011
  66. StopBadWare (2009) China’s Green Dam is BadWare and So Much More. Accessed 1 Sept 2011
  67. StopBadWare (2011a) Frequently asked questions. Accessed 1 Sept 2011
  68. StopBadWare (2011b) About StopBadware, StopBadware. Accessed 1 Sept 2011
  69. Sunstein C (2007) 2.0. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  70. Taylor C (1991) Sources of the Self: The Making of Modern Identity. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  71. Thelwall M (2009) Introduction to webometrics: quantitative web research for the social sciences. Synth Lect Inf Concepts Retr Serv 1(1):1Google Scholar
  72. Thompson M (2010) The sheriff of ‘not-the-Internet’: reflections on Comcast Corp. v FCC, Communications Law. Review 1(1):201Google Scholar
  73. Thompson, M (2011) The neutralization of harmony: whither the good information environment? (forthcoming)Google Scholar
  74. Tomkins A (2003) Public Law. Clarendon Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  75. Vaidhyanathan S (2011) The Googlization of everything : (and why we should worry). University of California Press, BerkeleyGoogle Scholar
  76. van den Hoven J, Rooksby E (2008) Distributive justice and the value of information: a (broadly) Rawlsian approach. In: van den Hoven J., Weckert J. (eds.) Information Technology and Moral Philosophy, p 376Google Scholar
  77. Varian H, Shapiro C (1999) Information rules: a strategic guide to the network economy. Harvard Business School Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  78. Wallace R (2003) Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy: practical reason. Accessed 1 Sept 2011
  79. Winner L (1986) The whale and the reactor: a search for limits in an age of high technology. Chicago University Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  80. Yoo C (2005) Beyond network neutrality. Harvard J Law & Technol 19(1):26Google Scholar
  81. Zheng Y (2008) Technological empowerment: the internet, state, and society in China. Stanford University Press, StanfordGoogle Scholar
  82. Zittrain J (2008) The future of the internet : and how to stop it. Yale University Press, New HavenGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© T.M.C. ASSER PRESS, The Hague, The Netherlands, and the authors/editors  2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of LawThe University of Hong KongHong KongPeople’s Republic of China
  2. 2.Oxford Internet InstituteUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK

Personalised recommendations