November 5, 2013
Google’s Pot Calls the NSA’s Kettle Black
Eric Schmidt, Google’s PR department’s worst nightmare, is out talking again. And this time, he’s not making rose-colored proclamations about Google TV or calling Android secure — he’s calling out the NSA for violating privacy.
Hello, pot? This is kettle. You’re black.
Last week it was discovered the NSA has a new program that intercepts data from the general public and the data centers of Google and Yahoo, effectively copying everything sent between the two. The security agency apparently did all this without permission, because when engineers close to Google were told how the NSA was able to pull off their little stunt, they allegedly started cursing.
Understandably so, Schmidt is upset by this, as are countless other Americans. At the risk of getting political, it’s hard to buy the reasoning that the government is listening to millions of American’s conversations in every medium in an effort to find a few bad guys.
It is important to find the needle, of course, but it doesn’t help when you throw giant bales of hay in the mix.
In a pair of interviews last week, Schmidt said he was appalled when he heard about the new NSA program, called MUSCULAR, saying the government’s actions were “outrageous” and a sure sign of a “terrible” public policy.
“It’s really outrageous that the National Security Agency was looking between the Google data centers, if that’s true. The steps that the organization was willing to do without good judgment to pursue its mission and potentially violate people’s privacy, it’s not OK,” said Schmidt in one interview.
Yes, please Eric Schmidt, tell me more about how terrible it is to have someone collecting data as they stand between you and the selected thing you’re looking for online.
I know what you’re saying to yourself, Gentle Reader.
“But Michael, there’s a difference between a for-profit business capturing data and governmental spying.”
And you’re 100 percent correct. Companies who offer a product should be able to profit from that product however they can. Thus, Google ads; Google’s completely reliable source of revenue from users who just want to know what the f*cking fox says. It is a well-known fact that Google is able to follow their users while they surf online, know what they search for, then serve them up ads they believe are relevant to these searches. And, because some people didn’t like surfing online with Google standing a creepy ten-feet away with binoculars and a microphone on a boom stand, hardware and software makers gave customers the right to tell Google to buzz off.
And how did Google respond to this request? Largely by not responding at all. They kept on spying on iPhone users, ignoring the Do Not Track requests and continuing to follow their actions online.
Then there is the entire debacle involving those roving spy-machines and the private data they slurped up from insecure, private networks. Several years ago, Google’s Street View cars began scouring America, taking pictures and cataloguing four-way stops and five-way intersections.
Oh, and they were also reading private emails as they passed through residential areas. The company said it was an accident, that the program they were using to pinpoint GPS location just happened to gather too much data and accidentally captured emails and browsing history.
The excuse sounded dubious at the time, but during a US appeals court hearing in September, Google defended their actions by comparing themselves to your stoner neighbor who’s too cheap to pay for the Internet.
Schmidt’s Google, a giant company, actually tried to defend their actions by saying, essentially, “if a person leaves their network unsecured, all information which can be seen by accessing this network is free to everyone.”
The judge in the case rightly shot this down, saying that if he bought into this logic, he’d have to allow hackers to sit in front of residential areas and steal the banking information of anyone who hasn’t had the forethought to protect themselves.
Let’s put this all together:
Google is a company which ignores users’ requests to block web tracking and feels anything sent across the airwaves is fair game, all in the name of serving their end goal; making Mitt Romney amounts of money.
Yes, Google is a company in a capitalist economy that is out to make money. While I disagree with their tactics, (scratch that…CREEPED OUT by their tactics) I understand they’re allowed to do anything in their legal right to make money.
The thing is, they continue to cross this legal boundary. Nations all over the world have taken umbrage with the company for their “questionable” data-handling procedures.
And “questionable” is putting it lightly.
They can make broad changes and begin using profile pictures and real names to promote their advertisers’ products, so long as they give users an opportunity to back out; and even though they sort of hid the toggle switches, they allowed users to opt out.
Thing is, it’s a bit hypocritical of Schmidt, the executive chairman of a company which bypassed user demand without telling them and simply stood in the middle to quietly collect data, to get bent out of shape when the government gives his a taste of his own medicine.
It’s hard for this writer to believe Schmidt is honestly concerned about user privacy; at least not any more concerned than he needs to be to keep his customers happy. After all, this is the man who recorded an entire conversation with WikiLeaks Found Julian Assange about the benefits of keeping everything loose and open.
No, it strikes me that Schmidt is simply mad because he wants to be the only bully in the playground, and Google certainly doesn’t want to get in a fight with the government to prove who’s stronger.
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