Google, Google, Google. Is the glass half-empty or half-full? To the world at large, Google and its executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, position the company as an Internet Robin Hood. Google takes the wealth of digital information and redistributes it to the poor.
What's not to like about that? Google is the world's most-recognized search engine. Google offers free email, online document tools, YouTube, social media, and Google Play. Google helps us get places with Google Maps and see the entire planet and our small place in it with Google Earth. Google simplifies computing with its own operating system and web browser and makes computers affordable with Chromebooks. Google has it all, which is way too much. Actually, it's downright frightening just how much, far more so than any episode of The Walking Dead.
Consider that at this very moment, Google has the means to know:
• What you are doing online (Google Chrome, Google tracking cookies everywhere online)
• What you are doing offline (Android and Chromebooks)
• What you are doing at home (Nest, and coming soon: Google robots)
• Where you are in your home (Nest, and coming soon: Google robots)
• Where you are outside your home (Android, and coming soon: Google satellites)
• What you are working on (Google Docs)
• Who you are talking to (Google+, Android, Gmail)
• What you are saying (Google+, Android, Gmail)
• What you are listening to (Google Play)
• What you are watching (YouTube)
• Where you are going (Google Maps and coming soon: Google's self-driving car)
• When you are going (Google Calendar)
• What you are looking for (Google Search, Google tracking cookies everywhere online)
• How to manipulate (augment) your reality (Magic Leap)
If a person did all of the above to you, you'd have them arrested for stalking. It's downright creepy. That's why Europe has responded with fines and legal decisions. Yet here in the USA, we do nothing. To paraphrase Joseph Conrad's Mr. Kurtz, "The horror. The horror."
In fact, the government just relaxed satellite resolution restrictions, enabling companies to use satellite imagery for resolution up to 25 centimeters. While the government can point to this improving the understanding of our changing planet, Google, largest customer of Digital Globe and new owner of one of the largest emerging satellite companies in North America, Skybox Imaging, from outer space can see the flavor of the juice drink you are sipping right now.
Why doesn't the U.S. government declare Google a monopoly and get on with it? The Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 stated that "any form of trust or otherwise that was in restraint of trade or commerce among the several states, or with foreign nations" was illegal. That's why the government put the ixnay on Standard Oil and John D. Rockefeller.
In the 21st century, Google has monopolized data mining the way Standard Oil did the oil industry. With each acquisition, such as Google Nest's recent purchase of smart-home hub startup Revolv, the company tightens its grip on the data-mining industry. The only difference is Google's sin takes place on a digital landscape that is harder to trace and regulate.
It's hard to form a straight line from mysterious hidden barges and driverless cars to artificial intelligence and superfast "quantum" chips modeled on human brains that improve the speed and power of computing. But underneath each of these technologies lies the same underlying theme: Google wants to know everything about you to sell to the highest bidder. There's big profit in breaking down your private world, not that Google thinks you should care -- as long as you think your world remains private and don't feel the violation or surrender and accept that it's not.
Those questioning Google's intent can look no farther than U.S. Patent 20040059712 A1.
In this 2003 patent, titled "Serve advertisements using information associated with e-mail," Google laid out its data-mining scheme for its new email service, Gmail, and its general thinking as well. The patent details how its technology intended to mine all email parts such as the following:
• subject line information
• body text information
• sender name and/or e-mail address
• recipient names and/or e-mail addresses
• embedded information
• linked information
• attached information
• a topic or concept derived using text of the e-mail, an e-mail attachment, linked information
• information from other e-mails sent by the sender and/or received by the recipient
• information from other e-mails having the same or similar subject text
• geographic location of the e-mail sender
• geographic location of an e-mail recipient.
The list goes on and on. Granted, Google didn't have the capabilities to do half of these things in 2003. The scary part is that they aspired to one day. That's the smoking gun and that day has arrived. The company didn't stumble into the world of data mining. It invented it and then monopolized it.
Now wait a second. An email service used for data mining to target advertising does not a monopoly make. But what happens when you (Google) buy YouTube and then apply the same principles to streaming content? What happens when you buy companies that data mine your activities inside your home and inside your car? And what happens when you apply your principles to apps you build that let people create documents, map routes, and browse content? Basically, whether you're online, offline, in or out of the house, the moment you awaken you're opening a one-way channel to the Google data-mining monolith.
Do you really think contraptions such as Google Glass, smartwatches, and self-driving cars are truly at their core intended for the betterment of society? What about Project Loon, using hot-air balloons to provide Internet access to the two-thirds of the world living without it? Google would say that's philanthropic, but the truth is it's an opportunity to profit off of the two-thirds of earth's population it has trouble reaching. Simply put, Google wants to find ways to tap into every facet of everyone on the planet to find a monetization opportunity. And that includes children, by the way, which has gotten Google into trouble in the past. They even want to present an augmented reality, a Google reality, as detailed by their investment in the start-up Magic Leap. Why? Because there's more profit in two realities than there is in one I suppose. The thought of living inside of that world makes my skin crawl.
Since 2001, Google has bought upwards of 171 companies, virtually all with data-mining capabilities, yet still faces no regulations for data-mining monopolization. In other words, don't be surprised to see a Google pillow and toilet in your future, because they seem to be the last bastions of privacy and targeted ads that Google hasn't yet penetrated.
At the end of the day, is the convenience that Google offers worth the price of our soul? Do we want to live in a society where everything we do, 24/7, is monitored by corporations like Google? In a creepy twist to this debacle, as Edward Snowden's revelations have shown, governments also have nefarious access to this data about us. As far back as 1949, George Orwell's chilling novel 1984 warned us all of a future infused with the dangers of invasive and dictatorial governments. Now in our 2014 reality, Orwell is no longer here, but fully 65 years later his fictional warning has turned into an odd, frustrating, and horrible reality. In a bizarre twist to his vision, it turns out to be democracy's private corporations that are the villains, with the government a delighted beneficiary.
Privacy and technology do not have to exist mutually exclusive of one another. The convenience and fun of one can be enjoyed without the sacrificing of the other. If we as a society and as people allow Google to continue down its current path, then we will become our own Walking Dead. Granted, we won't be brain eaters, for that's what Google aspires to be, but we will become a society of the undead wandering aimlessly in a vast dehumanized wasteland of data mining and monetization. The rallying cry for the privacy revolution is urgent and real. The stakes for humanity are significant. Our great country from its onset was intended to protect our individual and collective rights to privacy.
The United States government is designed to serve and protect its constituents, and is mandated with upholding the Bill of Rights and enforcing the Sherman Antitrust Act. The time is nigh for our government to take unprecedented legal action to restore our privacy rights and crush this onslaught of invasive and monopolistic data-mining practices. In this uncharted era where technology companies have paradoxically usurped the role of big brother, our government "by the people, for the people" must stand up. At the same time, as its citizens, we cannot wait. Arm yourself by choosing patriotic companies that uphold true privacy, like Apple, and privacy start-ups DuckDuckGo and MeWe. Avoid and deny Google's battalion the data it seeks. What is at stake is democracy itself. In the words of Brazil's newly re-elected president, Dilma Rousseff, "In the absence of the right to privacy, there can be no true freedom of expression and opinion, and therefore no effective democracy." Perhaps Mr. Schmidt has been in costume and we've been hoodwinked by the Big Bad Wolf!