Salsa Scoop> tag: ”blog:panopticon“

Do Progressive Techies Have a Google Blind Spot?

"No man chooses evil because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness, the good he seeks." -Mary Wollstonecraft A couple of weeks ago, there was a thread called "google & privacy" on the lib-techie mailing list Progressive Exchange, commenced with an innocent question about the search behemoth's ubiquitous IP tracking, and losing itself on the fringes of a trackless mire over the relative corporate responsibility of making profitable terms with the Chinese government. Google makes slick tools, and I've certainly left my own fingerprints all over their logs. But it's pretty surprising the degree to which many progressives are willing to let Google skate with no more accountability than its Wal-Mart-smiley slogan, "Don't Be Evil" -- or even, in criticism, to underscore some perceived failure of non-evilness as a matter for corporate ethos and little more. Josh Cohen just issued a reply post chronicling a variety of Google's intrusive privacy behaviors. It's a sobering piece, but take a look at some of these subheads: How Google Tracks You Indefinite Storage of Data Secret Government Access Google’s Creepy Obsession With Your Personal Data The fact is that it's hard to talk about actual and potential privacy intrusions without sounding like a nut, and Google's benign reputation can pre-emptively close the door on the subject if it stands unchallenged. Google's under your bed, going through your unmentionables! Or ... they might be, someday! The failure of this discourse, and Josh very pointedly tries to stay out of the trap, is the want of any sort of institutional view ... the fetish of Google itself, whether considered as evil or not, and the concomitant illusion that its social position consists of nothing but millions of individual user-to-Google relationships. Here's a comment from the ProgEx thread:
That doesn't mean we shouldn't be aware of the private data we hand over, but each individual needs to decide whether it's worth the "price of doing business." As a user of a number of Google Services -- notably Google Toolbar -- I've decided I'm OK with that. Other may decide differently. Certainly, if Google takes a path of abusing personal info, I'll be in a worse position than those who were more cautious.
Bargain individually with massively powerful faceless institutions to whom you're a numberless numbered cog? Withhold judgment of any potential for systematic abuse until one's personal ox has already been gored? Anyone who would embrace this approach to, say, labor organizing or public health ought to turn in their pwog membership card. Isn't privacy the same race-to-the-bottom situation? And isn't Google -- as enormous and agenda-setting as it undoubtedly is -- only the emblematic case here for a much more thoroughgoing phenomenon, one shaped fundamentally not by any one company's "heart" but by an ecosystem of competitive pressures and institutional mechanics that can't be meaningfully checked at the individual level? Especially in an era of overweening assertions of state authority over data, where do we end up if the discussion never gets beyond the condition of Sergey and Larry's soul?