Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Google Gets Spanked for Peeping

Internet and computer super giant Google has "Don't be evil" as its unofficial company motto.  Google supposedly fosters a welcoming corporate environment, and even has a "mindful eating" vegan meal at its main office once a month.  Google's Android phone software takes the opposite approach to Apple's iPhone.  Where Apple tries to strictly control "apps", Google shared the system and encouraged as many companies as possible to create programs and hardware that used it.  (There are positives to both approaches, though Apple is still well ahead in sales.)  Google has been a leader in (obviously) search engines, email, video, voice, and text chat over the internet, and even blogging and advertising.  In many cases, a Google user can easily set up an Android phone to easily access most or all of his needed programs from his phone.

With its easy to use multiple-service portal and applicability across wireless devices, along with its attempt to project a positive corporate image, Google could seem like an ideal business model for this century, but there is a darker side to this entity.  Google has been called out for "mining" the mailboxes of customers to target them for ads.  Google protested that it was not truly jeopardizing its customers' privacy since the data collected was anonymous.  As GPS and WiFi-location-based map applications on the ubiquitous smart phones enable continuous data collection combined with locations accurate to within a few feet, privacy advocates are not the only ones reacting in alarm: there have even been national security questions raised. (If you choose to use your Google Maps WiFi location feature on your Android now, you must agree to allow Google to "anonymously" collect your data.)

Karen Bleier/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

As a historian, I am used to collecting information about a subject from a variety of sources.  The more legitimate sources one has, the more likely a true picture of an event or an individual can be constructed.  Google has claimed that it is acting in good faith, and that only anonymous information is given to advertisers.  Is this true?

In a story from the NY Times, Google admitted to California officials this week that it had collected a variety of individuals' personal information as it cruised around neighborhoods photographing for its Street View application.  A mildly punitive fine has been levied, as well as some other slap-on-the-hand punishments, but it's a start.

The ability to extract an American citizen's exact location and a variety of other personal data without a warrant is especially disturbing, given that the current administration has a "kill list" of US citizens with no real oversight to ensure that US citizens are given due process.  Even more alarming is the 2012 report seeking to base drones out of 110 locations in the US.  

Let's recap: this country has a very popular provider of network services, including real-time geographic location for millions of US citizens.  This provider, Google, has a poor record of safeguarding that information.  This country also has political leadership that is killing US citizens without any transparency, and with little or no oversight.  We even have the senior law enforcement official in the US refusing to deny that the president can use a drone strike on a US citizen on US soil.  

I am not much of a tinfoil hat type, but it would be oh-so-easy, and very convenient, for any political adversaries to have their real-time location pinged...and a missile land on them.  Accidents happen.

Google needs to be called to heel, and this administration needs to have clear, transparent oversight for the decision to use lethal force against US citizens.  If we settle for anything less, we make a mockery of our Constitution and we open ourselves up to living in a prison without bars.  

1 comment:

Old NFO said...

Excellent point, and you're right, they DO need to be put in their place!