Google is not the richest company in the world or even the most profitable in its own sector; however, the search giant poses the biggest threat to the privacy, security and sovereignty of individuals. How can this be, you’re probably thinking? Google provides free email, storage, and analytics services, they’re not one of those corporations. They’re not bad. It’s true, Google has managed to escape the negative press of companies like Walmart and even Facebook but the truth is that Google is much more dangerous. Here are the Top Ten Reasons to Fear Google.
10. CEO Eric Schmidt is More Than an Engineer
After taking over Google in 2001, one man has overseen its growth into an empire. To fully understand the company’s ascent to monopolistic heights, we have to understand it’s CEO: Eric Schmidt. Born in the Washington DC area, maybe politics was in Schmidt’s DNA. After graduating with a degree in engineering from Princeton, he would go on to get his Ph.D. from Berkeley before joining Sun Microsystems.
Although Sun Microsystems had significant government contracts, his connection to government and its players was only beginning. Later as the CEO of Novell, a Utah based company, Schmidt would twice donate $1,000 to the Republican senator for Utah, Orrin Hatch. Schmidt’s wife would also donate the same amount to Hatch. The donations would continue.
By 2001, Schmidt had donated to over a dozen other politicians and PACs, including: Al Gore, George W. Bush, Dianne Feinstein, and Hillary Clinton, with some amounts totaling as high $100,000. He also began to rub shoulders with biggest players in Washington, joining the board of a Washington DC–based group: the New America Foundation. The stated goal of the foundation is to influence policy by “using its network of approved national security, foreign policy, and technology pundits to place hundreds of articles and op-eds per year.”
Why did the CEO of Google want to have such a direct access to Washington players? Why did Google want to influence American domestic and foreign policy? We’ll find out.
9. Google is Far Larger and More Powerful Than You Imagine
When your company name becomes a verb, you know you’ve reached extraordinary heights. However, Google’s rise didn’t happen overnight. In 1998, Google’s first year, users were making only about 500,000 searches per day. Nearly twenty years later, there are more than 2.3 million Google searches per minute. That’s right: per minute.
That means Google processes more than 100,000,000,000 searches per month; a simply staggering figure. And for every search, Google takes over 200 factors into consideration, before returning the “best” possible results to a query in just a fraction of a second. The real power of Google was demonstrated in 2013, when it went down for 5 minutes, and global internet traffic dropped by 40%. Google has become synonymous with “search engine” and therefore procures how, and most importantly what, individuals receive as information.
Is it dangerous that a sole company can shape how we receive information on the internet? We think so.
8. Foreign Power Player
Google has much larger ambitions than most ad-based companies. Not too many technology companies would hire someone with the particular qualifications of Jared Cohen. A former US State Department employee, Cohen moved to Google in 2010, where he spearheaded Google’s outreach into foreign policy circles. Cohen was a senior advisor to Secretaries of State Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton and was seen as an expert on terrorism, radicalization, and the impact of technologies on 21st century statecraft.
With Cohen’s addition, Google created a think tank, in this realm, and appointed Cohen to lead it. It was named Google Ideas. Now named Jigsaw, its stated goal is to understand “global challenges and applying technological solutions, from countering extremism, online censorship and cyber-attacks, to protecting access to information.” Quite ambitious for a company that simply provides internet based services.
Don’t tell that to Eric Schmidt, though. After hiring Cohen, the two wrote a policy piece for the Council on Foreign Relations’ journal and claimed that democratic states have built coalitions based on shared democracies and have the capacity to do the same with connection technologies. According to the Cohen and Schmidt, a company like Google offers “a new way to exercise the duty to protect citizens around the world.”
Soon enough, Google would flex it’s muscle. In 2009, when Iran seemed destined for revolution to overthrow government opposed to the United States, Cohen urged Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to delay his company’s scheduled maintenance to help the revolution efforts. The attempted revolution in Iran would fail, but with the Arab Spring soon spreading throughout the Middle East with the use of social media. Google was in perfect position to parlay their position for greater influence.
7. Connection Between Google and Foreign Governments
A lot has been made about Google’s showdown with China in 2010, which included the internet giant threatening to shut down its China operations after allegations of a cyber-attack and China’s continued policy of censorship. In January 2010, Google stated it would no longer censor the results as required by government authorities and decided to redirect search traffic to servers in Hong Kong, delivering uncensored results to Chinese citizens. Sure enough, the action was deemed “unacceptable” by Chinese authorities.
Was Google in a battle of free speech? Many media outlets portrayed Google as making a moral stand against Chinese supression. However, Google’s competitor in China, Baidu, stated that Google was leaving China for financial rather than ethical reasons. At the time, Baidu was the search engine market leader in China with about 60% of the market compared to Google’s 31%. Unable to compete, Google has used politics to brand China as repressive – further blurring the lines of Google’s business and foreign policy interests.
6. Google’s Role in Defense Industry
A great insight of Google’s growing role in government was made available by Freedom of Information requests. Emails show Google’s transition into the defense industry. The exchange between Schmidt and his fellow Googler Sergey Brin show that they are on first-name basis with then-NSA chief General Keith Alexander, and also reveals a program that the public was unaware of the “Enduring Security Framework.” The program’s goal is to facilitate the share of information between Silicon Valley tech companies and Pentagon-affiliated agencies.
“Your insights as a key member of the Defense Industrial Base are invaluable to ensure ESF’s efforts have a measurable impact,” Alexander wrote to a Google executive. We know what you’re thinking: what is the Defense Industrial Base?
According to the Department of Homeland Security, the Defense Industrial Base is “the worldwide industrial complex that enables research and development, as well as design, production, delivery, and maintenance of military weapons systems, subsystems, and components or parts,to meet US military requirements.”
Yes, Google is in the arms business.
5. Technology and Regime Change
Google sees itself as a necessity in opening borders for their technology to flourish. According to a book authored by the Google CEO, “what Lockheed Martin was to the twentieth century, technology and cyber-security companies will be to the twenty-first.”
The piece would go on to argue that the technology provided by the private sector would be the driving force in “democratizing” hostile and third world nations, thus making them ripe for private investment.
Soon after, the social media revolutions of Tunisia and then Egypt would excite many in the West, particularly in the government sector, giving companies like Google even more sway in the highest circles. Although many internet based companies tried to carve out a niche in the newfound space, Google had already established themselves as major players.
4. Big Brother
In 2014, Google announced that it made a $3.2 billion purchase of Nest, a company that manufactures intelligent smoke detectors and thermostats. An eyebrow raising move for some investors and analysts of the company. However, it’s fair to deduce that the acquisition was made with one thing in mind: Information. Google wants to collect as much information on its users as possible and Nest’s vision of a device that helps bring about a“conscious home” is one more step in that direction. It seems pretty innocuous; a smoke detector that can differentiate between burnt toast and a possible fire. How is this not just a benefit?
The Vault 7 leaks have demonstrated how seeming technological advances have been used for governments to spy on their populace. Televisions and phones can be turned into listening devices (though despite reports to the contrary, microwaves cannot. Reheat that day-old pizza in peace and privacy, folks). Companies like Google are fully aware that our transition into a “conscious home” will lead to staggering profits for providers of the service.
Sadly, consumers have not fought the advent of a Big Brother society but have welcomed the products into their homes.
3. Benevolent Company?
What’s so dangerous about Google’s control of the search apparatus? There are other companies that do it. Google just does it better. They’ve grown to such a big company because they do their jobs well. Where’s the harm in that?
Take the case of Dennis Cooper – author, artist, and blogger. Seemingly out of nowhere, Cooper’s 14 year blog, which contained a collection of all his work, was wiped from the internet. According to Cooper, he tried logging into his account one day and was told that his account was suspended due to a violation of the terms of service. He had no idea of what violation he had infringed upon and after painstaking efforts (talking to Google employees, and seeking a lawyer), he found that Google would not respond to his requests. He was stonewalled. His work was gone. Now, Cooper is viewed as a controversial writer, whose fiction “has often centered upon queer male protagonists engaged in acts of sadism and self-destruction.”
However, the underlying question is: what power does a company like Google have in erasing content, at a whim, from the web? And what happens, in the future, when information that goes against the company’s interests is searched? Does Google modify search results to protect its interests?
2. Shaping Consciousness
As the leading search engine in the world, Google has the ability to shape information that people find when searching for subjects. Also its failure to act, editorially, can be a problem as its auto-complete function reveals bias or racism propagated by right wing players and affiliates. As a result, misinformation is easily made available to consumers, which changes the way information seekers see the world. A small change in the order of auto-complete list can have a big impact, as most users choose the first option.
Another way Google negatively shapes the psychology of its users is through its mail feature. While many hold that the service is an unarguable positive, the functionality and design of Gmail leaves much to be desired. Designers of Gmail were well aware of “intermittent variable rewards” when implementing the pull down/refresh feature. That’s because research shows that people are drawn to the idea of an action leading to the possibility of an enticing reward. It’s the reason why slot machines generate the most revenue of all forms of gambling. Research shows that addictiveness is maximized when the rate of reward is most variable, and that’s what leads us to refreshing our email accounts every five minutes. It’s the idea we might get some reward soon.
1. Google’s Future
Google’s growth and expansion should be worrisome. Despite the origin of its algorithm with public funds, Google has grown to immense size and strength as a private company that will continue to acts in its own interests. Research now suggests that Google’s information collection is only rivaled by the NSA. It’s growing influence and partnership with the Washington establishment should also worry users, who may wonder whether their information is being routinely passed to government entities.
Google is everywhere: powering your phone (Android), directing your travels (Google Maps), and of course dominating the internet. The notion that Google is simply a benign company that hopes to change the world for the better must be seen as a naive notion. If Google continues its meddling in foreign affairs and spying on citizens, who’s to say Google will not grow to fit the image of Orwell’s dystopian society?