Say Hello to the World’s New Sovereign Nations: Facebook, Google and RIM
First, a little history lesson: In the 1600s, Europe suffered through decades of war over the spread of unwelcome religious philosophies from one country to another.
Recognizing the futility of decades of hostilities, in 1648 the combatants entered into a series of treaties, commonly referred to as the Treaty of Westphalia, in which today’s modern theories of sovereignty of nations were born. Today, the core principals of modern day sovereignty remain the same; the authority to control individuals and businesses within their borders from the unwanted intrusion of outsiders with sights on conducting commerce within its borders, or who threaten the sovereign’s ability to control and protect its population.
360 years after Westphalia, these theories are being turned upside down. Say hello to the new sovereign nations of Google, RIM, and Facebook.
Facebook now has more than five hundred million members, a population that would make it the third-largest nation in the world. Google, used every day by hundreds of millions, is the most robust resource for knowledge in history, and forever expanding.
Someday, Google will connect everyone, in every language, with everything that has ever been printed (and with its ownership of YouTube and other communications media, the delivery of all things video and audio is not many steps away).
RIM’s Blackberry is the backbone of industry; international commerce couldn’t happen without it.
Every day, Google, RIM, and Facebook are behaving more like sovereign nations than corporations — controlling populations, taxing citizens, and passing laws regulating insiders and outsiders who conduct commerce within their virtual borders. Their future independence will solidify their sovereignty from unilateral regulation by any other nation, terrestrial or otherwise.
In short, Google, RIM, and Facebook can already act with relative impunity. Each has sufficient power that it is impossible for any traditional nation to
truly control them.
If you need evidence, witness China’s failed attempt to ban Google when China’s population demanded access. Or Facebook’s frequent changes to their privacy policies, largely ignoring concerns of local regulators and legislators. The U.S. and the EU can pass all the rules they want on behavioral targeting, privacy, or data protection.
But the truth is that within a short period of time, the ability to make those rules meaningful without global unity is going to be a futile exercise.
Nor is it likely that the latest moves in Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia to ban Blackberries and wireless communications will do much more than ignite protest and clandestine e-mails.
Can any government, acting alone, shut down or meaningfully regulate these Internet giants? Isn’t it inevitable that they will soon be immune from control by any single sovereignty? The unified power of Facebook’s population, Google’s knowledge base, and RIM’s communications platform leads to no other conclusion.
All three pass “laws” with impunity.
Facebook launched its Community Pages ignoring trademark principles and problems associated with repeating postings that may be libelous, breach confidentiality, or reveal private facts about individuals or companies. It’s one thing for them to argue that they cannot police posters, but not so convincing if they’re unwilling to police their own creations.
They have no need to import any energy to operate (every terrestrial nation lets their population pay for them and provide power to them for free). Each has political self-determination, economic independence, border control, and energyindependence.
In short, they are sovereign nations in every sense.
Banning or boycotting is meaningless. Fining is fruitless as judgments against virtual assets becomes impossible to enforce. And while they’re head-
quartered in terrestrial nations, they can operate from any country that agrees to their terms. Sanctions will be increasingly difficult and, in the end, only hurt commerce and local populations.
And if punitive measures are taken, sooner or later we’ll face the ultimate act of sovereignty by these new virtual nations; the waging of war
against those who try to influence their activities from outside their borders.
What prevents any of them from turning off access, isolating a population and causing an uprising?
Global treaties among both traditional and virtual nations. Perhaps the U.N. needs to meet the virtual world. But continued unilateral action by the U.S., the EU, China, or any other nation or group of nations is not just ineffective, it’s suicidal.
Indeed, if local self-interest continues to drive regulation, Virtual World War I is not far away, a war in which economic and data chaos, not nuclear weapons, could send us all back to the Dark Ages.
Doug Wood, We Expert
Reprinted from Corporate Counsel, http://www.law.com/jsp/cc/index.jsp