Sunday, March 31, 2013

Are Google And Sweden Going to War?

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Sweden. Pearl of Scandinavia. It's one of the richest countries in the EU, also known for its beautiful women, excellent meatballs, and a liquor called aquavit that'll strip the enamel right off your teeth.

The Swedes are, by all accounts, a nice people, a peaceful people, at least since the early 1800s. But now, it seems, the Swedes are threatening an epic tussle with the American Internet company Google. The point of contention? A single word.

We all know how big a player Google is when it comes to the Internet. The search engine that gave the company its name has become the default term for "looking something up on the Internet." ("Wait, let me Google that.") In addition to its mighty search engine, Google's Android operating system runs more than 32.9 million smartphones and tablets, making it the leading platform for mobile devices. 

Yes, Google bestrides the Internet like a colossus. So when the Swedish Language Council's end of the year list of "new words" in the Swedish language included the word ogooglebar, meaning a word that can't be looked up on Google, the California company got tough.

First, a bit of background. It seems that Swedes are mighty fond of coining new words, words that take a few syllables to sum up concepts that other, clumsier tongues like our own require whole phrases to describe.

Take, for instance, the word livslogga. The word literally means "life logging," and it describes the annoying habit of "continually documenting one's life in pictures," according to the online Swedish-American journal "The Local." A Swede, for instance, might say, "My friends are always livlsogga. It's driving me crazy," except he'd, you know, probably say the whole sentence in Swedish.

Other new Swedish words include nomofob, which describes someone pathologically afraid of being separated from his or her cellphone, and fulparkerare ("ugly parker"), which describes those who park their vehicle in particularly inept or inconsiderate ways.

Enter the Swedish Language Council, which Wikipedia describes as "the primary regulatory body for the advancement and cultivation of the Swedish language." Every year, the council publishes its list of new words being officially "admitted" into Swedish. But when it approved ogooglebar, the people at Google apparently felt as if their trademark was being encroached upon. It appears they sent the council one of those dreaded Stern Letters, the generation of which appears to be a primary function of trademark lawyers.They "wanted the council to specify that the word's definition only covered searches performed using Google, and not searches involving other search engines," according to The Local.

This may seem silly, but such is trademark law. One of its quirky principles states that if you don't vigorously defend your right to exclusive use of a trademark, you lose it.

The council backed down without a fight. It announced that it was going to take the word off the list entirely, with only a weak statement expressing "displeasure with Google's attempts to control the language."

But then the Swedish people found out about it. As is true with most very nice people, when the Swedes finally decide to get their back up, it gets way up. Swedish social media exploded in a storm of invectives, including lots of vowels with those little dots and circles over them.

The Swedish Academy, the people who award the Nobel Prize for Literature and, as it happens, publish the official national dictionary, entered the fray by announcing that Google had "shot itself in the foot" and that they might very well decide to put the word into the next edition of the dictionary. "Then let Google roll out its cannons," said permanent secretary Peter Englund of the Academy, "because we have cannons too."

OMG, as the kids on the Internet say. Did the Swedish Academy just throw down the gauntlet? Will this blow up into the next major international crisis? Are Swedish commandos readying a lightning strike on Google's Mountain View, Colo., headquarters? Will Google attempt to pressure the plucky Swedes by cutting off access in that country - rendering, I suppose, everything ogooglebar for them?

And, I have to ask, why isn't Secretary of State John Kerry on this? Do we really have enough strategic meatball reserves to withstand a Swedish embargo? It's a scandal. A scandal, I say! It calls for a couple of hundred hours of congressional hearings, at the very least.

It's too bad the liberal press is so far in the pocket of the Obama administration, or this coverup would be exposed. It's time for the right-wing blogosphere to step up and do its part in exposing Ogooglebar-Gate.