You are here

Big Brother 2.0: Google-NSA through foreigners' eyes

Today's New York Times front page story "Google's computing power betters translation tool" by Miguel Helft spotlights that Google arguably owns and operates "the world's largest computer." The article quotes a Google  engineering VP explaining that Google's unparalleled computing power enables Google to "take approaches others can't even dream of."

Combine the world's largest computer, with the best automated translation capability for most all of the world's top languages, with reports from the front page of the Washington Post that Google proactively sought help from America's top spy agency, the NSA, for its cyber-security vulnerabilities, and it is not surprising that foreigners would be growing increasingly wary of Google and the extraordinary potential power that Google holds over them. 

So what do foreigners increasingly see Google doing?

First, they increasingly see "The United States of Google," a term Jeff Jarvis coined in his book on Google. Shortly after Google publicly accused the Chinese Government of being behind or complicit in the cyber-attacks on Google:

  • U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a landmark foreign policy address on Internet freedom that singularly praised Google for making "the issue of Internet and information freedom a greater consideration in their business decisions;" and
  • Google is publicly pushing U.S. trade officials to bring a World Trade Organization (WTO) complaint against China's Internet censorship as a barrier to trade.     

Second, they see Google increasingly monopolizing the global search business, among other key market segments. 

  • The EU declared that Google "generally enjoys market shares above 90%," in recently approving the Microsoft-Yahoo search alliance.  

Third, they see all the private information Google is aggressively and less-than-openly collecting on employees of foreign governments and citizens of other countries: 

  • Private intentions, vices, interests, weaknesses, etc. via search, Google Toolbar, Analytics, and Chrome; 
  • What one reads via Chrome, Toolbar, Analytics, DoubleClick, Google News, Blogger, Feedburner,Knol, Books, etc.;
  • What one views via YouTube, Picassa, ToolBar, and Analytics;     
  • What one is saying via Gmail, Google Voice, Google Voice to email transcription, Google translation, Orkut, Google Buzz and Google Wave;
  • What locations one is interested in or where one goes via Chrome, ToolBar, Google Earth, Streetview, Google Maps, Analytics and Latitude;
  • What one's unique digital identifying characteristics are via Chrome, Google's 411 voiceprint collection, and Google Goggles collection of objects and potentially faces for facial recognition, Google Earth, and StreetView; and
  • Who one associates with, and when and where, via gmail, ToolBar, Google Voice contact list, Orkut, Google Buzz, Google Wave, Latitude and Android. 

Even with all that private information that Google collects, Google's self-described "omnivorous" search engine wants more.  Google VP Marissa Mayer explains Google's information ambitions to the Telegraph:  

  • "The ultimate prize for Mayer is intuitive search. She wants Google to be capable of presenting information to users before they even know what they're looking for. Amazingly she doesn’t think her team are that far away from achieving what she calls the ‘omnivorous’ search engine –i.e. one which is able to take a user’s total context – where they are, what they were just reading, which direction their mobile phone is pointed and so on."

Foreigners increasingly are aware that Google cumulatively knows more about more of them than any other entity in the world -- by far.

In sum, if Google has all this private information on so many people around the world, and Google is seeking NSA's help to protect it, it is no stretch to be concerned that either the U.S. Government, other governments, and/or bad actors/hackers could ultimately manage to get access to some of this unprecedented trove of highly-sensitive private information.  

  • However well-intentioned Google may claim to be, the disturbing reality is that Google has already created an Orwellian Nineteen Eighty-Four "Big Brother 2.0" capability and private information collection trajectory, that free people the world over should be deeply concerned about.