Google PR at the Expense of HLS*

By Natalie Novitski
Tuesday, April 1st, 2014 @ 11:33PM

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Google is working hard to repair the damage to their public image, wisely doing so by criticizing various defense organizations. Over the last few months the American intelligence organizations got their fair share of bad publicity: The U.S. Senate, Congress and even the White House gave them the cold shoulder, and their status in the eyes of the U.S. and global public is at an all time low. Google came to the conclusion that the enemy of the public’s enemy is the public’s friend, right? Or at least that’s how it looks.

Last Thursday Google stated on its official blog that since transparency is such an important issue for the company, it’s also important for them to inform the public about the way intelligence and law enforcement agencies significantly increased the amount of requests for private information. Google, they claim, provided only partial data, in addition to making it very difficult for the agencies (who, by the way, approached them with court orders) to get the information. The blog writer, apparently very concerned, added that countries even began to use their legal authority to demand access to information (what? Google isn’t above the law?!). This deliberate attempt at disinformation is simply amazing.

Deception no. 1: Google is the guardian of the public’s privacy

A stroke of genius as far as public relations campaigns are concerned. A real utopia: Google and the little citizens, hand in hand against the evil government agencies. Just to make things clear: We’re not talking about NSA-style hacking here; these are legitimate requests submitted by law enforcement agencies, who need the data for criminal investigations. Before approaching Google these cases were reviewed by a judge, who decided that the severity of the evidence and the potential danger to the public justify breaching the alleged criminals’ privacy. Beyond that, the public discussion concerning intelligence collection methods is a legitimate and important discussion. Despite their flawed record, however, the main motives of law enforcement and intelligence agencies are public safety and security. Google does not necessarily share such interest. In this case Google isn’t helping maintain public security, perhaps even damaging it by using every legal loophole to stall law enforcement and intelligence agencies while they’re trying to do their jobs.

Deception no. 2: Google supports transparency

What does transparency have to do with Google? Over the last few months the French consumer’s union was busy negotiating with the advertising giant. Their request was simple: More transparent terms of use. They wanted the terms of use to be simple so that most people – not just those with a law degree – will be able to understand them. The union approached Google following a survey that showed that 85% of French citizens are extremely worried about their privacy, feeling helplessly out of control when it comes to managing their information. Google refused the union’s request and, every other attempt also ending in failure, the French organization filed a class action lawsuit. Even if the lawsuit will result in a titanic fine Google’s pockets are deep enough to handle almost anything.

For Google this is just a cold, financial consideration. Information equals income, and lots of it, as far as Google is concerned. According to EU Parliament reports the financial worth of EU citizens alone is worth around a trillion euro. So a fine in the amount of a few million euro pales in comparison. Google is thinking ahead. They’re interested in public awareness about as much as they’re interested in contracting the Ebola virus.

Users who are aware are dangerous users. They might start coming up with alternatives, then – heavens forbid – other companies might pop up with less invasive products. A true financial conundrum. So Google invests a lot of effort in order to keep our information for itself, all of it if possible, preferrably exclusively, in addition to pilfering information from other platforms through Google ads. It’s important to note websites or applications who use Google ads incorporate segments of code which act as a kind of “black box” – you’re not legally allowed to check any of it. Media owners can’t even know for sure what that code does, or how it interacts with their customers and users. More than that: According to the contract with Google the owner of that website will be legally responsible if anything goes wrong. So it looks like transparency is relative, and when they talk about transparency maybe they mean that we should all be transparent to them. Basically we’re living in a sort of real-life “matrix” – they know everything about us while we remain unaware.

Slamming intelligence and law enforcement agencies also serves another purpose – diverting attention from a much more important, global privacy concern – although one less covered by the media. Google these days is focusing its attention on the EU Parliament. The EU is currently promoting a series of laws and regulation that – if properly enforced – can block Google’s access to this goldmine of information, a goldmine based mainly on public lack of awareness. If these new laws go into effect Google won’t be able to continue operating in Europe, at least not in its present configuration.

Google invests a lot of effort, and is prepared to do almost anything, in order to divert public attention from its own misconduct to that of official organizations. Google’s researches, in a hacker conference held in Singapore last week, presented a research according to which media and journalists are prime targets for hackers and cyber espionage. According to Google countries and governments are responsible for most of these attacks. When asked, however, why Google – basically an advertising company – is researching this issue, company representatives had no comment (transparency, remember?). It’s hard to say whether Google employs researchers in order to embarrass governments as part of some strategic policy, or perhaps the discovery was incidental. If the latter is true – why did researchers refuse to comment?

Let’s be honest, with all due respect to the United States or the European Union, Google is probably the strongest global superpower in existence. This is a real opportunity for it to show the government and parliament “clowns” what “eye to eye” means. If they want to expose Google’s questionable practices Google can do the same to them, exposing practices governments would have preferred to keep secret.

The following video contains a colorful explanation of the blocking methods Google uses to interfere with law enforcement and intelligence agencies:

[Please see the original posting—here—for this video.]

* This article originally appeared on the iHLS website on April 1.

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