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Guardian reports: "Google Earth used to target Israel" with attacks -- Google's increasing liability...

The British paper, The Guardian, reported recently that: "Google Earth used to target Israel."

  • "Palestinian militants are using Google Earth to help plan their attacks on the Israeli military and other targets, the Guardian has learned. Members of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a group aligned with the Fatah political party, say they use the popular internet mapping tool to help determine their targets for rocket strikes."  
  • "It is not the first time that Google has been accused of unwittingly abetting the activities of militant groups or terrorist organisations. In January, British officials claimed that insurgents sympathetic to al-Qaida were using aerial photography in Google Earth to locate potential targets inside British bases around the southern Iraqi city of Basra."

What is really scary about this coverage is the chillingly "open" video by the Guardian next to the written story that shows (about two-thirds of the way through the 4 minute video) how the "Palestinian militant" actually targets rocket attacks on Israel using Google Earth -- ostensibly to try and terrorize, kill and maim Israelis within Israel.  

In another similar high profile problem, Google Earth was also careless in releasing restricted photos of the White House roof on Google Earth. 

The New York Times also reported that: "Government's tremble at Google's Bird's-eye view" which highlights how other government's were outraged that photos of sensitive security locations were made public and easily accessible by Google Earth. 

The New York Times did yet another interesting article about Google's new "Street View" application where: "Google zooms in too close for some." 

 The very troublesome pattern here is Google's invasive "innovation without permission" culture, which rushes to get new applications out as quickly as possible, and then doesn't worry about, or take responsibility for, the problems or ramifications of an incomplete or an un-reviewed application. They don't worry because they believe any problems will work themselves out through the iterative "open" feedback process that relies on delegating review of their "work" to the Internet public and the "wisdom of crowds".

  • Just think if we took that casual, "we'll fix it later" approach to innovation  in making pharmaceuticals, pesticides, oil drilling platforms, vehicles, toys, or safety equipment?
    • You see my point...

My oft-blogged concern is that Google's business approach has no internal controls, management oversight, or adult supervision to speak of. 

  • Moreover, they are dealing with some highly sensitive information that could harm a lot of people -- if the wrong people use this newly organized information to more efficiently and effectively do bad things -- that they didn't/couldn't/wouldn't do before Google made it so easy. 
    • Is there no contingent liability for being the only company that enables specific types of potential harm or problems?

I wonder how far Google would get in court arguing that noone could have foreseen that there might be a security problem with disemminating to anyone with an Internet connection an application that would show the security measures on the White House roof, security and civilian sites in Israel, or a host of other problematic locations in a post 9-11 world.

  • What's truly scary here is that Google still doesn't see the value of internal controls or management oversight before releasing new applications.
    • What if Google comes up with a neat new application that gives everyone easier access or better information to figure out other people's social security numbers or financial passwords?
      • Is there any internal control or management supervision to head off that potential identity theft disaster at the pass?  

At its core, Google's is basically delegating its own corporate responsibility to others through the iterative "open" public beta review processes.  

  • This casual lack of corporate responsibility and accountability may have been "cute" several years ago as an early startup, but it doesn't fly when Google has:
    • ~700 million users worldwide;
    • ~1 million advertiser clients;
    • a $200 billion public market capitalization;
    • The worlds leading brand; 
    • Over 15,000 employees; and 
    • Inescapable corporate accountability under Sarbanes-Oxley law. 

Google appears to be telling the world that they have a "get out of jail free card" because:

  • Their motto is "do no evil";
  • "innovation" is always per se good ;
  • "open" processes only produce good things; and
  • the permission to use other's property rights is not necessary and is anti-innovation.  

Google also apparently believes they are somehow absolved from any responsibility or liability that their un-reviewed innovations may cause to the public.

  • Congress or the courts will ultimately resolve this question.

Unfortunately for Google, pleading ignorance of the law or ignoring the obvious safety/security concerns of others that are obvious and foreseeable -- will not shield Google from liability -- indefinitely. 

  • I predict we are not far from the time when people that believe they have been harmed by Google's disregard for internal controls to protect the safety and security of others -- begin to file class-action lawsuits against Google's super deep pockets for negligent liability -- on a wide set of fronts.
    • While Google may think it is immune from the corporate reponsibility and accountability that other corporations face, they will eventually learn that even Google can be held legally-liable for their actions if they did not excercise due care and dilligence in protecting the public from forseeable harm.