There’s no doubt 2019 will probably see Republicans and Democrats seeking to put more pressure put on Big Tech through the threat of regulations or outright destruction through antitrust laws. It’s another ‘not really odd when one thinks about it’ team-up featuring supporters of President Donald Trump and democratic socialist Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. They’re basically the crocs from Pearls Before Swine screaming, “KEEL DA GOOGLE!” whilst holding pitchforks and torches.
The latest croc – to stick with the Pearls Before Swine reference – is Ned Ryun at American Greatness. The former George W. Bush speechwriter believes it’s imperative to break the tech giant into tiny pieces for “the public good” and the fear Google isn’t loyal enough to America.
We need to understand that Google is not loyal to any nation-state. Apparently it wants nothing to do with our Department of Defense, which means it is not aligned with our national defense and security issues because it considers itself a multinational global company, not an American one. While it is refusing to do work with the Pentagon, it’s been cavorting with the world’s largest authoritarian police state in China. China, by far the biggest threat to the United States, has been clear about its goals and hopes of replacing us on the world stage.
Pichai denied any plans to launch Project Dragonfly, the censoring and invasive search platform that Google, according to hundreds of reports, has been building for the Chinese Communist Party. But does anyone really believe him? Google clearly has no problem censoring on behalf of foreign governments, as its past behavior has shown, so why should we believe what it says in regard to China?
The “Project Dragonfly” Ryun is referencing is a deeply kept secret within the bowels of Google’s HQ. It may or may not involve a search engine which would automatically filter out troublesome topics the Chinese government isn’t interested in its citizens discovering. The Intercept_ has done an excellent job at revealing disturbing details about the potential search engine – including a claim senior leadership isn’t interested in hearing internal objections to the problem and may have kept the security team from attending a meeting on the project. One Google employee created a strike fund in case workers decided to stop showing up to work over the project. Google admits it exists but denies it’s ready for final launch.
Google’s apparent interest in working with the Chinese on a censored search engine is extremely disturbing – and I hope the company decides to end Project Dragonfly. Yet, Ryun takes his criticism a step forward by going into misguided nationalism in suggesting Google has to adhere to the values of America because more and more people are installing smart devices in their homes.
We have to remember that for every good use of smart devices and data, there is a nefarious use as well: personally identifiable data combined with data mining and analytics opens the door to all sorts of shenanigans. There is always a flip side of the coin. With a little creativity it’s not that hard to imagine some of the things that can be done with data and manipulation.
So now you have a company, Google, that doesn’t really consider itself American, that really isn’t loyal to the country that gave it the ability to rise, that really isn’t loyal to many American values, that is truly only loyal to itself and its left-wing worldview. That company, already collecting the most personal and identifiable data in the world, is not transparent about what it’s doing with the data, and is positioned to become even more powerful in the new world order that the [Internet of Things] is going to usher in.
One has to wonder if those “values” include the NSA collection of data via secret warrant – which Google was involved in before allegedly deciding to encrypt more data in 2013. The relationship between the government and Google was apparently so close the NSA and Google executives met several times in 2012 to discuss national security. We don’t know if tech companies are still cooperating with the government or if Edward Snowden’s disclosures forced them to really re-think their policy. As ominous as a Google collaboration with China may be, is their level of compliance with U.S. government spooks any less worrisome for the world’s consumers?
The other croc looking to take up pitchforks and torches and destroy Google is former New York Attorney General candidate Zephyr Teachout. The Democrat – who also served as campaign manager for Cynthia Nixon’s failed New York gubernatorial run – has long railed against Google saying last July she’d use antitrust laws to break it up under the notion it’s a duopoly. Teachout also wrote in The Washington Post Google is becoming some sort of monarch due to a dispute with the think tank New America after a researcher agreed with the EU’s fine of the tech giant.
Google has become greedy about owning not just search capacities, video and maps, but also the shape of public discourse. As the Wall Street Journal recently reported, Google has recruited and cultivated law professors who support its views. And as the New York Times recently reported, it has become invested in building curriculum for our public schools, and has created political strategy to get schools to adopt its products.
This year, Google is on track to spend more money than any company in America on lobbying. In 2015, it was the third biggest corporate spender, paying more than Exxon Mobil, Lockheed Martin or the Koch brothers on lobbying. Much of what it is spending its money on has nothing to do with technical details regarding its search engine and everything to do with using its power in its search engine to shut out some competitors and build power over others.
Teachout, interestingly, did not comment on data collection concerns – something which has rightly worried other Democrats (along with Republicans).
The major problem with Teachout and Ryun’s complaints is they ignore how government has enabled Big Tech through a wide variety of targeted tax breaks and subsidies. Alabama handed out at least $50M to Google for a new data center in 2015, while Midlothian in North Texas gave Google a 100% property tax abatement and an 85% capital improvement tax abatement for a data center. Nevada decided it was wise to slide over $25M in subsidies to Google with a bit of a catch: Google had to hire a grand total of 50 people to qualify.
This isn’t free markets. It’s cronyism. It’s the government deciding to pick winners and losers instead of letting low taxes and low regulations be the deciding factor in why a company decides to set up shop in town. These subsidies only help businesses secure a leg up over their competition who aren’t involved in lobbying or are promising to not track anyone’s data.
Which brings us to the problem with this notion Google is some sort of monopoly: alternatives exist. DuckDuckGo.com (which I used to research most of this article) doesn’t track user data. The browser Brave (which I use on my PC) is also not involved in tracking data and is a better, more stable product than Google’s Chrome. They don’t have the market reach of Google – but word of mouth is a powerful thing. I learned about DuckDuckGo through CNN’s Andy Levy (back when he was on Fox’s Red Eye with Greg Gutfeld) and a buddy of mine told me about Brave. Word of mouth is a powerful thing.
There’s no reason for the crocs to scream towards the government “KEEL DA GOOGLE!” when it’s the government enabling the tech company to get so much power. Yes, it’s disappointing Google is working with China on Project Dragonfly and horrible they’re getting subsidies from state and local governments. The solution is in the hands of individuals. They can protest Google by lobbying their own local officials to not hand out the tax abatement and vote those out who refuse to change the policy. They can also go to other products which don’t track their data or work with China. It’s the harder road, but the one worth taking.