Rebutting Mr. Ammori’s “Blame the NSA not Google”

Published November 23, 2013

Mr. Ammori, one of Google’s and Free Culture’s most able defenders, comes to the public defense of Google in his recent USA Today Op-edBlame the NSA not Facebook & Google.”

He publicly castigates privacy advocates for doing their jobs, stating: “blaming tech companies for the NSA’s overreach isn’t just ignorant, but dangerous.”

As most understand, ad hominem attacks are the refuge of those who know the facts are not on their side.  

Nevertheless Mr. Ammori does us all a favor for elevating the important public question of whether or not Google, in particular, deserves any blame for its significant role in the NSA spy scandals.

First, let’s address whether it is “ignorant” to blame Google for complicity in NSA spying. Consider the following facts.

  • Google is unique in having a public mission to collect all of the world’s private information.
  • Consider the staggering number of ways that Google has developed to monitor more people more intimately than any entity ever – including today’s NSA. See this one-page graphic: Why Google is Big Brother Inc.   
  • Consider how similar Google is to the NSA in spying habits, legal positions, and attitudes in this analysis.
  • Look at how closely Google has cooperated with the NSA over the last decade in this list.
  • See how Google is the spy tool of choice, the one-stop-shop for spying and the spymasters dream in this analysis.
  • Given all the Snowden NSA revelations involving Google, it is reasonable that many in the rest-of-world could look upon Google Glass’ capability — to enable anyone to surreptitiously video record and immediately send it back to Google servers  — as Google’s Spy-Glass or Team NSA headgear. See here.  

So considering the overwhelming evidence against Mr. Ammori’s view, it is far from “ignorant” to put some blame on Google for creating a unique global database of extremely intimate private information on over a billion people that every intelligence service around the world naturally would covet.

Second, let’s address whether it is “dangerous” to blame Google for complicity in NSA spying. Consider the following.

  • What Google fears here is that holding Google accountable for its part in pervasively invading the privacy of Americans and innocent people around the world would endanger Google’s two-pronged political strategy. First, it seeks to divert attention from Google’s world-leading privacy violations (see here). And second, it seeks to undermine calls for commercial privacy reforms and legislation by advancing the self-serving and absurd notion that only government’s can violate people’s privacy – not companies, organizations, or individuals.  Simply, Mr. Ammori is complaining that privacy advocates understand that protecting Americans’ privacy depends on better privacy accountability legislation for the Government and for companies, organizations and individuals.
  • Another real danger here would be to ignore that Google’s online advertising model is not financially-aligned with users’ interests, but advertisers’ interests. To best learn people’s private hot buttons in order to best influence their commercial behavior via advertising, Google has invented more ways to spy on people’s very intimate behaviors, and to aggregate immense private dossiers on individuals, than any entity ever.
  • While Google’s online advertising is a very legitimate business model, it truly would be dangerous to ignore that the same information that Google uses to influence users’ commercial behavior easily could be used by governments to influence citizens’ political, economic and social behaviors.
  • In addition, it would also be dangerous to ignore that the current dominant Internet advertising model advances a property-and-privacy-destructive, Internet commons/free culture philosophy that all Internet content, software and bandwidth should not require any permission or payment to use.     
  • Finally, another real danger here would be to allow Google to evade accountability to the rule of law, and to the high ethics and privacy standards that Google publicly represents itself as having, when Google has accumulated such a uniquely long and bad corporate rap sheet – see here.

Thank you Mr. Ammori, your op-ed has brought welcome additional attention to the many overwhelming facts surrounding Google’s complicity in the NSA spying scandals. The evidence proves some blame is very well placed on Google.