Google’s Eric Schmidt warns Myanmar’s government against controlling the Internet

Google’s Eric Schmidt warns Myanmar’s government against controlling the Internet

Eric Schmidt continued to implore Asian governments to adopt an open approach to the Internet after the Google Executive Chairman told an audience in Yangon, Myanmar, that a free Web will bring more benefits to the country than a policed one.

Schmidt, who is visiting Myanmar after spending two days in India, drew applause from the crowd when he spoke of the need for the government to adopt a hands-off approach to the Web.

Technology-wise, Myanmar is in a similar league to North Korea, where Schmidt recently spent time. Around 1 percent of the country’s near-50 million population has Internet access and — though tech companies are beginning to enter – adoption of mobile devices remains very low. Just 3 percent of the population were thought to own a phone of any description in 2011, according to The World Bank.

Like with North Korea, India and other emerging markets, Schmidt emphasized the Internet as a tool for social, economic and political advancement. He explained that the Web won’t allow Myanmar to “go back” to its time as a nation that was closed off from the rest of the world.

Following his call for India to forgo its policy of policing the Web, Schmidt said that — while governments may fear the openness of free speech — the overwhelming positive benefits outweigh those perceived negatives, as the AP reports.

“The answer to bad speech is more speech. More communication. More voices,” he said. “If you are a political leader you get a much better idea of what your citizens are thinking about.”

Despite the relaxing of the regime in Myanmar, the country’s Internet space is still subject to suspicions of monitoring and censorship. Earlier this year, The New York Times reported that several journalists who cover Burma received warnings from Google that their email accounts might have been hacked by “state-sponsored attackers”.

Google yesterday opened a dedicated local search site — — while restrictions around its Google Play app store for Android phones appeared to have partially lifted, although downloads were not possible. Schmidt went on record saying that Google would work to improve access to information by developing its search, translation and mapping services in the country.

“Right now the thing Google can do most is get information into the country,” he said.

Schmidt is due to visit Thein Sein, Myanmar’s president, this afternoon, in a trip that will have seen him mix with Google employees, business executives, startups and politicians in the country.

Update: We’ve put a couple of requests into Google asking for more details on its plans to open services in Myanmar, but are yet to hear back from the company. However, Google is said to have confirmed that its Play store has gone online in the country, but will take some time before it is fully functional.

Related: Google’s Eric Schmidt calls for an open Internet as he lifts the lid on his visit to North Korea

Headline image via Shutterstock

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