An intellectual freedom blog with an emphasis on libraries and technology

Monday, May 21, 2012

Why Google is evil

Most have heard the phrase "high treason." Does that mean there's such as thing as "low treason?" Actually, yes. In  medieval society in which dueling is legal, the law specified that "low treason" was "killing a relative of the king." Why make this treason? Because by selectively eliminating heirs to the throne through dueling one could determine the succession - pick the next monarch.

A thought experiment.

Let's say you do something that most other people would find strange (or so you think). Let's say you like to watch antelope porn. No one harmed. You just get off on watching antelopes mating.

Now let's say you find yourself fed up with all the rogues in politics: the culture warrior republicans, the spineless democrats, the fragmented left, the looney right, all of it. You start talking to friends and acquaintances about running for office. You're well-liked and make for a good candidate. After winning a low level local race you start campaigning for state-wide or national office. Your record as a county or city official indicates that you remain above all the corruption and reject traditional party loyalties.

Now let's say you win a congressional seat. Once in Washington you start raising holy hell about the traditional way of doing business. You go to the press about a meeting between business leaders and congressional reps in which the business people give  insider trading information to the politicians, and how your colleagues cash in. Or something. It does not matter what. Not part of the existing beltway society, you stand up for what you think is right and do not cave in to pressures to conform. The wealthy and powerful donate to your opponent during your re-election. Outspent a thousand to one you somehow manage to encourage enough people to look at your record, your youtube videos, come to your campaign events that you convince a majority to reject the candidate with the multi-million dollar campaign. You win re-election.

But then Google gives all your personal information it has gathered to the CIA, your web surfing and video viewing history then finds its way into the hands of the media. Your antelope fetish becomes public knowledge. You never touched an antelope in your life - you just watched them do it. Doesn't matter. No one will vote for you now.

This may sound far-fetched in a lot of respects. I purposely made the details a bit silly for entertainment. But the part that's not far-fetched? That Google has already entered into an arrangement with the CIA to share everyone's personal digital histories. That sounds like conspiracy theory but it's actually a matter of fact. (See the alternet news report about Google: The Terrifying Ways Google Is Destroying Your Privacy. Well worth the read).

The destruction of privacy runs only in one direction. That's the real problem. Google, (and people staffing the national security agencies) can release an individual's personal information in ways that can damage that person's reputation or livelihood or political prospects. But the rest of us can not see the same for the people on the other side of the one-way mirror.

Eric Schmidt, one of Google's founders, one of the 'do not evil' guys, stated in 2010: "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place." But can we see what he's been up to online? Is that information available freely to the rest of us, as our information is available to him? I didn't think so.

I realize all of this exists now as a thought experiment. We may not even realize the abuse of this power when and if it happens. But the obvious power that comes from eliminating persons from even potentially serving in government already has a name.  Although no longer applied to dueling, the concept of "low" treason, unused for centuries, is coming back. But this time it's legal.

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