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Brown brown-noses Google, Brin demands privacy

Your indefatigability - I salutes it

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Gordon Brown might be short of friends within the Labour Party, but they must love him down at Google. He gave a speech yesterday at Google's annual Zeitgeist conference which had the smack of George Galloway's ringing endorsements of Saddam Hussein.

Brown told Google's love-in: "I begin by congratulating Google, ten years ago a research organisation, now a $180bn company, an expert in social innovation... you stand for an open, non-protectionist economy...you stand for a flexible economy... you stand for inclusion, and of course there are only five per cent of people in Africa who can access the internet, but the demand is growing and your ability to provide that in all the different continents of the world is something that makes me confident about the future."

Brown made some extraordinary claims for the international impact of this shiny new Google world. "Think of the monks in Burma. 20 years ago, ten years ago, even five years ago they would have had sentries standing over fax machines to stop information getting into a country - and now, even with a repressive regime like Burma, information cannot be repressed forever, information cannot be suppressed and it comes out of a country." [Except perhaps China, where the great firewall combines with compliance from the likes of Google}

In answer to a question Brown then echoed (thanks to the power of Google perhaps) Blair's claims about Rwanda made in 2001. "If for example Rwanda was happening now, then I do not believe that the world would have been as silent as it was, because people would have known what was happening within the country and people would have been moved to action."

We're sure that will be a massive relief to the people of Darfur.

Brown said there only two markets still to feel the joy of flexibility and free trade - oil, which is still run by cartel Opec, and the food industry hamstrung by high levels of subsidy which "are preventing prices for people that are at a realistic level, and preventing people from producing in countries and continents like Africa".

Brown also made some vague claims for increased technology in the public sector. He said the public sector could empower people by giving them more information on self-medication, although presumably that doesn't include cannabis.

He also talked up the benefits of crime mapping - "for people to map the areas where crime is happening and to be far more aware on a day to day, sometimes hour to hour basis of what is happening in their neighbourhoods."

The smoochfest also heard that Sergei Brin, Larry Page and Eric Schmidt would spend yesterday afternoon considering their response to Microsoft's reopening of negotiations with Yahoo!. The two are believed to be looking at something beyond a partnership, but not a full merger.

Brin - with no apparent sense of irony as leader of a company being investigated for invading the privacy of its users - accused social networks and ad companies of being "creepy" in how they exploit users' information. "Some companies have aggressively pursued a very commercial orientation in a creepy, scary way that kind of scares people," he said, according to the FT.

Read the whole speech here. ®

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