Many governments are unhappy about Google, Yahoo and Microsoft: those are too big to bully. It's much easier to bully local search engines and email providers: they are usually too timid to complain and they have much more too lose (that's why the fact that more and more Chinese netizens seem to be drifting towards local versions of Web2.0 services - a trend spotted by Michael Anti and others - is a little bit disturbing).
But let's face it: it's very hard to beat Google at search, email and a gazillion other services that they offer. The Turkish leaders seem to believe otherwise: Tayfun Acarer, chairman of Turkey's Information Technologies and Communication Board (BTK), said that Turkish engineers are working on a Turkish search engine that is to launch in 2010. They expect it to be popular not just in Turkey but elsewhere in the Muslim world - Acarer says he is confident that "these other countries will trust our search engine".
Why would other countries want to use such an invention? Obviously, because it will have a better "editorial judgement" than Google (i.e. omit whatever leaders of the Muslim world find offensive). According to Acarer, existing search engines are "sometimes deaf to country's sensitivities". This is not the first attempt to create a search engine for Muslims - see my previous coverage here.
Acarer also announced another project called "the Anaposta" - and it sounds much more ominous than a pre-filtered search engine. "The Anaposta" would provide email accounts - with a quota of 10 gigabytes - to all of Turkey's 70 million citizens. "Every child will have an e-mail address written on his/her identity card since birth", said Acarer."So, will have a mobile network that can be used thanks to id number match and foreign networks, such as Yahoo, Gmail and Hotmail, will not be used anymore".
This doesn't get any more disturbing than this: not only would the Turkish government completely eliminate anonymity on the Internet, they would also be able to monitor all communication flows in real time, as email services would be provided by the government or structures related to the government.
"All internet communication data goes to foreign countries and then it returns. This activity has a security aspect," said Acarer. I can't be 100% certain but I think most of Turkish citizens would probably rather have their data go live somewhere on a Google server in California than to be looked at by Turkey's intelligence services - on a server in Istanbul. But then again I may be misjudging the mysterious Turkish soul.
Evgeny Morozov, originally from Belarus, is a visiting scholar at Stanford and a Schwartz Fellow at the New America Foundation.