The top U.S. spy agency for mapping announced a no-bid digital mapping contract with Google on August 19th. However, after media inquiries, the agency modified the contract's no-bid format, but made clear "the agency's intention to award the contract to Google without entertaining competitive bids" -- per a Fox News story by James Rosen.
- Wow. There are large and broad implications of this remarkable new development for: privacy, security, antitrust, Google's international business, and Government oversight.
- The fact that this was announced in late August, when precious few are paying attention, should heighten everyone's Big Brother Inc. antennae.
Has anyone in a position of authority or oversight even begun to think through the irony and stupidity of contracting out the Nation's most sensitive intelligence gathering and analysis function to a company that has:
- A mission to "organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful" [Bold added];
- Been completely hacked open in just the last year by Chinese cyber-hackers who stole the computer code to Google's password system (per the New York Times);
- Titanic security flaws and a corporate aversion to security, because security is by design an inefficiency that slows systems down, which is the exact opposite of Google's hallmark: speed, and most efficient info accessibility;
- A huge business model conflict in that Google primarily mines private and public data of others in order to sell targeted advertising to third-parties based on what information will most influence a particular user at a particular time.
- A corporate philosophy of openness for most everything, a corporate mantra of "innovation without permission," a long track record of hostility to privacy and proprietary property, and a deep cultural aversion to accountability -- all of which are antithetical to the mission and operations of U.S. intelligence agencies which demand extreme secrecy, tight permission-based operations, and robust accountability; and
- Has spread and made more harmful the Wikileaks war logs from Afghanistan -- the top secret information leak the U.S Government has described as harmful to national security and warranting prosecution.
Is anyone looking at the big picture here? Is anyone conducting due diligence here? Has anyone thought through the off-the-charts conflicts-of-interest involved here? Doesn't anyone is authority care about the multiple serious red flags here?
- What may be most troubling here is the blinders that the officials involved in this decision appear to have on.
- They appear so entranced with the potential of rapidly achieving the post-9-11 ideal of some, of "Total Information Awareness," that they have forgotten that Congress effectively outlawed such an effort in 2003.
- Apparently decision makers here are so enamored with the spying-potential of combining Google's "Total Information Awareness Power," -- i.e. the most advanced and integrated identification, tracking, profiling and analysis technologies in the world today, with the vast secrets and powers of the U.S. intelligence agencies -- that they have not thought through the many obvious, foreseeable, and predictable ways this collaboration could go tragically and terribly wrong for citizens' freedoms, privacy, and civil liberties, and for separation of powers and democracy.
To appreciate how even smart people can miss the huge conflicts involved here, consider the oxymoronic comment by an expert in the Fox News article.
- "Kevin Pomfret, executive director of the Center for Spatial Policy and Law in Richmond, Va. “They want it to be secure, but they want it to be web-based, so that it can be easily accessed.”" [Bold added]
- By definition systems, that are "easily accessed" are not "secure."
More ominously, this effective no-bid contract is ignoring the assessment of U.S. Government cyber-security officials, who have concluded that cyberspace is a battlespace that the U.S. simply cannot win, because the core design of the open architecture of the Internet and web-based applications makes it nearly impossible to detect the source of cyber-intrusions or cyber-attacks.
- With this contract it appears that our intelligence apparatus is not intelligently considering how Google's consumer market based: approaches, designs, interests, and privacy/security solutions are antithetical to the top-secret, no-mistakes-allowed, highest-of-stakes mission of state spy-craft.
Big Brother Inc. Implications:
Privacy implications: It is generally understood that American intelligence agencies are not supposed to surveil American citizens without the permission of a special FISA court and congressional oversight. The 38 state investigation of Google's Wi-spy efforts, where Google snooped on and recorded the WiFi and other radio signals emanating from U.S. citizens houses around the U.S. -- has taken on an interesting new twist.
- Was the supposedly single rogue engineer that Google said slipped warrantless wiretapping code into Google's StreetView cars (supposedly unknown to, and un-detected by, Google) possibly an intelligence operative of the U.S. or even another Nation?
Security Implications: How does it make sense to use the technology platform built on the computer code that was recently completely compromised by America's #1 cyber-foe, China, to be the computer code that processes the Nation's most sensitive intelligence analysis? This is deja vu.
- This sounds an awful lot like the intelligence disaster of the Moscow Embassy in the 1990's where the Soviets put bugs in all the building materials of the embassy so the building was essentially one integrated listening device, and thus worthless for most important activities.
- If intelligence agencies use the Google core source code that was so completely compromised that Google's password system code was stolen, what kind of back-doors or secret access points does Google's source code still have -- that could turn our intelligence mapping operations into the Internet equivalent of the Moscow Embassy disaster?
Antitrust Implications: According to the Fox News report, "The agency's synopsis indicated that the agency wants to steer the contract to Google, based in Mountain View, Calif., on a no-bid basis because "Google is the only source that can meet the government's requirement for worldwide access, unlimited processing, and Open Geospatial Consortium complaint web service interfaces." [bold added]
- Translation: an intelligence arm of the U.S. Government has concluded that Google effectively has a monopoly on cloud-based mapping/location analysis applications.
- What does that conclusion portend for competition in any industry where Google bundles its mapping/location analysis applications for free into other types of stationary and mobile information, products and services?
- It is competition game over. Competitors can't compete with a monopoly product/service enhancement -- bundled for free.
- Antitrust officials need to think long and hard about the implications of Google's ability to embrace and extend its search advertising monopoly -- with a mapping and location monopoly gained by ranking Google Earth/Maps/StreetView #1 in Google search results.
International Implications: Obviously none of the math wizards at Google have done the one plus one math of this simple geo-political equation:
Google Streetview Wi-Spy scandal in 33 countries
+ U.S. intelligence analyzing StreetView/Wi-Spy data
= "Google Go Home" foreign backlash/sentiments
Google seems to be forgetting that 53% of its revenues come from outside the U.S. and completely depend on the trust of foreign governments and foreigners that Google is not spying on them for the U.S. Government.
- Google apparently has no clue how seriously these public spy collaboration efforts conflict with the "open," "Don't Be Evil," neutral/unbiased, branding Google did to build Google into the #1 brand in the world.
- To explain this in a inverse relationship that Google understands, the more Google's brand is aligned with, and working for, spy surveillance -- the less people will trust Google.
Oversight Implications: Hopefully Congressional leaders and the relevant oversight committees been briefed on the implications of this decision and are setting up oversight and accountability mechanisms to ensure that the collaboration between the largest and most powerful Internet and information company on earth and the U.S. Government -- does not reincarnate the Total Information Awareness capability that Congress thought it blocked from happening in 2003.
- It will also be interesting and important to see if all the watchdog groups that were up in arms in 2001-2003 about just the potential of Total Information Awareness, get up in arms now about the reality of Google's Total Information Awareness Power that already exists under their noses -- or if Google has cleverly conflicted them all out of the arena of accountability by giving them free Google Adwords grants, free software, and free products and services.
In sum, this no-bid, August-buried, contract announcement of Big Google formally, extensively and pervasively getting in bed with the U.S. intelligence complex, is completely antithetical with the "open," "Don't be Evil," neutrality-champion, brand values that Google used to achieve its world leading brand and critical mass adoption by users, publishers and advertisers.
- Simply, this smells like a classic "bait and switch," where the "Don't be Evil" branding was the "bait" to build worldwide trust, and the "switch" is Google morphing into "Big Brother Inc."