“The Google services and apps that we interact with on a daily basis aren’t the company’s main product: They are the harvesting machines that dig up and process the stuff that Google really sells: for-profit intelligence.”—Journalist Yasha Levine
“We know where you are. We know where you’ve been. We can more or less know what you’re thinking about.”—former Google CEO Eric Schmidt
What would happen if the most powerful technology company in the world and the largest clandestine spying agency in the world joined forces?
No need to wonder. Just look around you. It’s happened already. Thanks to an insidious partnership between Google and the National Security Agency (NSA) that grows more invasive and more subtle with every passing day, “we the people” have become little more than data consumer commodities to be bought, sold, and paid for over and over again.
With every smartphone we buy, every GPS device we install, every Twitter, Facebook, and Google account we open, every frequent buyer card we use for purchases—whether at the grocer’s, the yogurt shop, the airlines, or the department store–and every credit and debit card we use to pay for our transactions, we’re helping Corporate America build a dossier for its government counterparts on who we know, what we think, how we spend our money, and how we spend our time.
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What’s worse, this for-profit surveillance scheme, far larger than anything the NSA could capture just by tapping into our phone calls, is made possible by our consumer dollars and our cooperation. All those disclaimers you scroll though without reading them, the ones written in minute font, only to quickly click on the “Agree” button at the end so you can get to the next step—downloading software, opening up a social media account, adding a new app to your phone or computer–signify your written consent to having your activities monitored, recorded, and shared.
It’s not just the surveillance you consent to that’s being shared with the government, however. It’s the very technology you happily and unquestioningly use that is being hardwired to give the government easy access to your activities.
In this way, Congress can pass all the legislation it wants—it will have no real effect on the NSA’s activities—because the NSA no longer needs to dirty its hands by spying on Americans’ phone, email, and internet activities; and the government can absolve itself of any direct wrongdoing. They can go straight to the source, as evidenced by a Freedom of Information Act request detailing the close relationship between Google higher-ups Eric Schmidt and Sergey Brin and NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander. With Google in its hip pocket, the NSA can just bypass any legislative restrictions dreamed up to appease the electorate and buy their way into a surveillance state.
The government’s motives aren’t too difficult to understand—money, power, control—but what do corporate giants like Google stand to gain from colluding with Big Brother? Money, power, and control. As privacy and security expert Bruce Schneier observed, “The main focus of massive Internet companies and government agencies both still largely align: to keep us all under constant surveillance. When they bicker, it’s mostly role-playing designed to keep us blasé about what’s really going on.”
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While one billion people use Google every day, none of them pay to utilize Google’s services. However, there’s a good reason that Google doesn’t charge for its services; and it has nothing to do with magnanimity, generosity, altruism, or munificence. If, as the old adage warns, there’s no such thing as a free lunch, then what does Google get out of the relationship? Simple: Google gets us.
The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by the owners of this website.