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Free Minds & Free Markets

Google and Privatized Authoritarianism

The tech giant appears willing to do almost anything to win access to the vast Chinese market.

Aly Song/REUTERS/NewscomAly Song/REUTERS/NewscomTech giants get a lot of well-deserved flack for playing at partisan politics, picking sides in policy disputes, and suppressing speech and ideas that don't fit well with their dominant political ideology—or promoting those that do. Even some of the companies' employees' find the internal culture stifling, such as the Facebook workers who recently derided the social media behemoth for "a political monoculture that's intolerant of different views." But for a glimpse of real danger, consider what happens when Google, the dominant search-engine company, teams up with a regime it apparently finds agreeable, and lends its considerable clout to reinforcing authoritarian rulers' control over their suffering subjects.

Google left China in 2010 after realizing that there was no end to the demands and intrusions the government would make, no matter how the tech firm tried to comply. But now the company appears willing to do almost anything asked to win access to the vast market. And what's being asked of the company is that it help the government control its people.

A "memo, authored by a Google engineer who was asked to work on the project, disclosed that the search system, codenamed Dragonfly, would require users to log in to perform searches, track their location—and share the resulting history with a Chinese partner who would have 'unilateral access' to the data," The Intercept reports about a new search engine Google is developing for China.

Unsurprisingly, the results delivered by the new search engine will be as considerate of state demands as are its tracking capabilities. Dragonfly will serve up only fare approved by government officials, according to the Intercept's Ryan Gallagher.

When a person carries out a search, banned websites will be removed from the first page of results, and a disclaimer will be displayed stating that "some results may have been removed due to statutory requirements." Examples cited in the documents of websites that will be subject to the censorship include those of British news broadcaster BBC and the online encyclopedia Wikipedia.

And some queries are considered so sensitive that they'll return no results at all—though users' interest in pursuing forbidden paths of inquiry will certainly become part of their permanent record. That's no joke in a country that's rapidly modernizing the hoary old mechanisms of the police state with a modern "social credit" system that can effectively place people under house arrest with nary a trench coat in sight.

"A poor Chinese social credit score can lead to bans from travel, certain schools, luxury hotels, government positions, and even dating apps," notes the Brookings Institution. Liu Hu, an investigative journalist, incurred the Chinese government's wrath for exposing corruption among Communist Party officials. He's among millions who have been punished with a tanked social credit score that prevents him from easily working or even leaving his hometown.

I suspect that a few officially disfavored internet searches on topics like "Tianenmen Square" could easily ding a social credit score, and a person's life. Google is happily dedicating hundreds of employees to making that nightmare become a reality.

China is a massive country whose government holds sway over almost a fifth of the world's population. Its policy decisions have a huge impact on human well-being and liberty. For those who hoped that the country's recent emergence from overt totalitarianism was a positive sign, the implementation of a high-tech police state, aided and abetted by a company born in the relative freedom of the United States, is hideously discouraging.

"It will be a dark day for internet freedom if Google has acquiesced to China's extreme censorship rules to gain market access," comments Patrick Poon, China researcher at Amnesty International. "It is impossible to see how such a move is compatible with Google's 'Do the right thing' motto, and we are calling on the company to change course."

A successful move by China to tighten control over information and dissent will have effects far beyond the country's borders. It's likely to be looked upon with envy by other regimes eager to keep their populations on a tight leash.

"Due to my conviction that dissent is fundamental to functioning democracies, I am forced to resign in order to avoid contributing to, or profiting from, the erosion of protection for dissidents," Jack Poulson, a former Google senior research scientist, wrote after resigning over the Dragonfly project. "There is an all-too-real possibility that other nations will attempt to leverage our actions in China in order to demand our compliance with their security demands."

In fact, Britain's foreign secretary, Jack Hunt, quickly pointed to Google's cooperation with the Chinese government as evidence that the company should be more compliant with the UK's demands for greater censorship of online content. Government officials from around the world are probably lining up to make similar demands.

It's obnoxious enough when private companies conflate their commercial activity with the ideological preferences of the majority of their managers and staff. The quality of their offerings then has to be balanced against the support or damage they lend to causes important to potential customers. But we don't have to use their services and can seek or create alternatives.

The stakes increase when companies become private contractors for authoritarianism. Government controls are imposed on their victims by force, and the companies that help to invent and implement those controls can accurately be called willing collaborators. As collaborators, they take on moral responsibility for the projects they develop that expand state control over subject populations.

Google's leadership obviously sees an advantage in reentering the vast Chinese market after years of exclusion, even if reentry is on terms dictated by and advantageous to an authoritarian regime. If that's really the path the company's leaders wants to take, they will have to accept that they've become part of the problem, and that they're legitimate targets for anybody who opposes the regimes they serve.

The tech giants may find that playing at politics becomes less fun when they raise the stakes quite so high.

Photo Credit: Aly Song/REUTERS/Newscom

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  • loveconstitution1789||

    An example of public trust corporations undermining the very public that authorized their existence.

    Maybe we should just go back to only full liability companies/partenrships without LLC's, corporations, and other limited liability business entities.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Selling out freedom of speech will certainly bite Google in the ass like it has in the EU, yet Google continues to help the Commies in China.

    To big to fail?

  • KevinP||

    Class Action Complaint against Google for Workplace Discrimination, Harassment and Retaliation


    Actual quotes from Google managers:

    George Sadlier ("Sadlier"), a Director, sent out a mass email condemning James' essay as "repulsive and intellectually dishonest" and promising an HR investigation into Damore. Sadlier also promoted posts that advocated for physical violence against Damore. Damore received a late-night email from Alex Hidalgo, a Site Reliability Engineer at Google in Sadlier's organization: "You're a misogynist and a terrible person. I will keep hounding you until one of us is fired. F*** you."

    Adam Fletcher ("Fletcher"), L6 SRE Manager stated in reference to conservatives as "hostile voices," "I will never, ever hire/transfer you onto my team. Ever. I don't care if you are perfect fit or technically excellent or whatever. I will actively not work with you, even to the point where your team or product is impacted by this decision. I'll communicate why to your manager if it comes up."

    Another manager, Collin Winter, posted threats directed at a Google employee as a result of raising concerns of harassment and discrimination to Urs Holzle. Winter stated: "I keep a written blacklist of people whom I will never allow on or near my team, based on how they view and treat their coworkers. That blacklist got a little longer today."
  • buybuydandavis||

    Notice how you have to go to Reason's comments section to find someone questioning government license to profits without liability for the actions which lead to those profits.

    It's almost as if Reason isn't in favor of free markets at all, but only corporate profits.

  • RabbitHead||

    Could you try to re-phrase that in a way that makes sense? You may have a point, but I'm not sure.

  • khm001||

    The origin comment is about legal liability, not profit.

  • TLBD||

    "Privatized Authoritarianism"

    Isn't that the one definition of fascism that most can agree to?

    And how is what they are doing in China any different than their relationship with the DNC?

  • Here for the outrage||

    It's not, this article is meant to cover their asses for Robby's drivel from last week.

  • Rockabilly||

    Comrades!

    Google is so cuddly what's the problem?

    Don't you like our funny logo?

  • Lion and Cheetahing||

    It seems to me that Google is simply following the inspired leadership of our dear leader President Donald Trump by collaboratung with authoritarian regimes for personal profit.

  • JWatts||

    Yes, because Donald Trump has so famously collaborated with the Chinese.

  • Rossami||

    Yes, because Google didn't start any of those initiatives until after January 2017.

  • khm001||

    I do like the fact democrats think Obama and Hillary colluding with foreign agents during the 2016 election cycle to manipulate the election results, somehow make Trump guilty.

  • IceTrey||

    Google's new motto, "Do be evil."

  • hive of scum||

    Alternatively, "Don't be evil - leave that to us."

  • JWatts||

    Don't be evil poor!

  • Cy||

    There needs to be some kind of limit on corporation's abuses of individual's rights. After they reach a certain size, they obtain an immunity to their actions. Then a powerful company officer or politician use them to abuse people's rights. The government shouldn't be able to contract out tyranny and companies shouldn't be able to effect elections or people's constitutional rights.

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    Everybody should be forced to have no contact with any source of news or opinion for at least 90 days before any election they vote in. Only a cleansed and pure mind should be allowed to vote for the top men who will run our lives.

  • I can't even||

    www.abc.net.au/news/2018-09-18.....fmredir=sm

    What China is doing is the most evil organized effort since the Cultural Revolution.

  • Old Mexican - Mostly Harmless||

    The tech giant appears willing to do almost anything to win access to the vast Chinese market.


    So did the British East India Company.

  • khm001||

    Said my someone who doesn't know much about the British East India Company.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    I'm not too worried.

    1. It doesn't take much to confuse Google searches.

    2. The Chinese have been pretty good at getting around the native firewall, as evidenced by the regime banning all Winnie the Pooh references.

    3. The more Google shows its true colors, the sooner competitors will displace it. No market monopoly lasts long, and Google began the shift to preacher several years ago when they banned certain icky firearm searches and shopping.

    4. Google's betrayal of its "Don't b evil" slogan, and then explicit dropping of it, has pissed off its fanboys, and internal sabotage has already reared its head.

    5. Technological innovations creates and requires openness. The more any government clamps down on freedom, the slower their society progresses. China opened up freedom and jumped ahead; a fresh clampdown will slow them down. It's self-regulating.

  • vek||

    I wish I had as much faith as you do... But I see definite problems with almost all of those assumptions. I'll keep my fingers crossed though.

  • KevinP||

    Re: 3 & 4, these will work providing we keep publicizing what Google actually is.

    Employee Lawsuit Reveals Google as Intolerant Race Cult


    Quotes (but read the whole article and linked complaint):
    Google engineer James Damore's class action complaint describes a creepy cult-like orthodoxy at Google, where dissent is smashed, and the color of your skin is far more important than the content of your character. Reading the complaint is a deep dive into wicked, racial groupthink, and a frightening reminder that it really can happen here. At Google, it does.
    ...
    This article cannot possibly capture all of the rancid, racialist, thuggish things going on at Google, so I'd urge you to take time to read the whole complaint. It's like reading Solzhenitsyn's travel log from Ekibastuze. It reveals nothing short of the psychologies of totalitarianism in their timeless forms. The purges. The moral relativism. The threats. The lists of enemies. The upside-down world of the wicked justifying their wickedness.
  • Michael Cook||

    Just a tip. I got so fed up with the hard line lefty headlines and news selection choices on MSN that I routinely go to Drudge Report to see what's happening. Then if I want deeper research I use duckduckgo. I couldn't believe that there were so many conservative or Republican leaning news sources out there that I had never heard of while using google.

    BTW, I remain well-rounded, because the wife subscribes to Time magazine and plays NPR constantly in the house and car. I did have to tear the last Time mag up into tiny little pieces in front of her, however, due to its usual offensive alt-left cover meme.

  • Cy||

    "NPR" ... *shutters.*

    By government, for government in the interests of more government performed by Nimby dirty hippies.

  • BYODB||

    That might be the most cogent description of NPR I've heard.

  • loveconstitution1789||

  • KevinP||

    There are many decent news sources on the right and even in the center. These are some that I use:

    Daily Caller
    Free Beacon
    Washington Times (not the Washington Post, which I just unsubscribed from, after having been a paying subscriber for many years).

    I will also include Breitbart News as worth keeping on your daily reads, although they tend to have a shrill tone. But the actual facts reported in their articles almost always check out correctly.

  • Ken Shultz||

    "A poor Chinese social credit score can lead to bans from travel, certain schools, luxury hotels, government positions, and even dating apps," notes the Brookings Institution."

    Not only does this generally describe what progressives want, it describes the conditions they're creating here in the U.S.

    Alex Jones has a low social credit score. Google has banned him from YouTube. PayPal now refuses to handle his payments. Roseanne lost her show because of her low social credit score. Norm MacDonald has been blackballed from The Tonight Show because he refused to toe the party line.

    The progressives want us to receive no results from Google when we search for things they call fake news--or move those results to the second page. The progressives want people to lose their employment because of their low social credit score. Don't the progressives support using the government to deny the exercise of your Second Amendment rights if you have a low social credit score?

    No, people aren't thrown in prison for talking about the wrong topics in the U.S., but let's be clear about the same thing (to various extents) happening here, that the progressives are using the same basic logic as the Chinese government, and that it's the same tech companies doing the same sort of thing here in the U.S.

  • vek||

    Yup. Obviously as a libertarian I get the "private businesses should be able to do what they want" thing... But there are exceptions to every rule, and certain times and places with certain businesses, perhaps it's time to have an exception? A single company, Google, could literally tilt an election in this country through their bullshit because of the nature of their business and its function.

    Wal-Mart may move more money through the door, but the POWER over some things Google has is far more important in many ways.

    We all know they were slanting things last go around, perhaps Trump would have won with a majority of the popular vote if just Google alone had been acting impartially. We'll never know. But those kinds of implications can't just be waved away as being a non issue.

    All the other BS that different companies are doing (taking away credit card processing, deplatforming, etc), all in a clearly concerted effort to stifle anyone guilty of wrong think, are terrifying. Google, Facebook, etc may be the biggest and baddest, but there are a lot of other companies doing stuff that is equally horrible, or even worse, they just don't quite have the scale.

  • Stephen Lathrop||

    The scale is your problem,vek. Don't go over the edge and add government speech regulation to make the problem worse. If the big internet platforms had to read everything before they published it, there would be thousands of platforms competing to do it. And the biggest ones would be a tiny fraction of the size they now are. Problem solved. No day-to-day government speech intervention. Free markets. Competition. So far, no one can point to a better way to solve this problem.

  • vek||

    See, that's the thing though... I don't think what you propose would have to be the case at all. It's all in HOW you structure the regulation. For instance something as simple as:

    For any company allowing public commentary on the internet in the United States of America, no company shall censor any posts, videos, or other forms of media or communication that are legally protected free speech under the US Constitution.

    DONE. If a company wants to ban hate speech, or conservatives, or whatever on their site... They can do it outside the USA. If they want to operate in the USA they have to be neutral. This would solve saaay the Facebook/Twitter/YouTube issues. Google manipulating search results is a different beast, but I imagine a smart person could come up with something fairly even handed there too.

    I understand that regulation CAN be done in bad ways, and usually is... But it doesn't HAVE to be. A small subset of laws we have in the USA are actually pro freedom laws that serve just ends, something like the above could in fact be such a law if done right. Not saying I have faith congress WOULD do it that way, but it is possible.

  • damikesc||

    So...we can criticize the behavior of companies now, right?

  • Colossal Douchebag||

    We can criticize everybody! The internet makes our moral authority superior to all!

  • BlueStarDragon||

    In chess we have a term called the poison pawn. It's a trap where you offer a pawn ( or some times anther piece ). It will weaken their position if they take it and causing them to lose the game. It's a lesson that pounded into chess students to get them to understand the problems of taking short term material gain over long term strategy. China is doing a similar tactic by offering access to their markets which is their poison pawn. In the end they will use their power to betray the companies when the China's government is through with them or make them state owned. As for me I use duckduckgo instead of google, but I have yet to find a replacement for youtube.

  • vek||

    Bitchute is pretty sweet as a YouTube replacement. It doesn't have all the random crap, but it has a LOT of conservative and libertarian political stuff on there since YouTube has been purging those guys off of there. I hope it does catch on as a more mainstream thing though, because these mega tech companies need some real competition.

  • BlueStarDragon||

    Thanks for the info

  • Mark22||

    The tech giant appears willing to do almost anything to win access to the vast Chinese market.power.

    FTFY.

    While I'm sure that their crying over Hillary's loss was heartfelt, it was at least partially motivated by the fact that under Hillary, they would have been able to get pretty much anything they wanted from the US government.

  • Colossal Douchebag||

    So, hooray Capitalism, as long as they only do business with nice people?

  • khm001||

    I like how colossal douchebags think submitting to government demands to NOT do business with certain politically unwanted types, i.e, the OPPOSITE of capitalism, translates to "hooray Capitalism, as long as they only do business with nice people".

  • Jayburd||

    Google sends your browsing to the cloud--- https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17942252

  • Jayburd||

    And thought the government didn't like competition.

  • Trollificus||

    "Google is happily dedicating hundreds of employees to making that nightmare become a reality."

    I would be unsurprised to find that some of them were the very same folks who posted how problematic it would be to continue to work with the "misogynistic" James Damore were he allowed to continue employment at Google. Or the unstoppable 4K-strong minority who decided that since they themselves were bothered by working on AI for the Defense Department (OUR Defense Department), everyone else at Google should be exactly so bothered.

    Kind of embarrassing for the sales execs who negotiated that DoD contract, but then, when you're desperately tiptoeing towards your Golden Parachute; avoiding stepping into anything "toxic", saying anything "problematic", or making any kind of eye contact from "approving" to "shaming" to "confused" with any of the fluidly-gendered co-workers who might raise a fuss...just keep yer head down and remember: "Don't be evil." is no longer the Google motto (removed May, 2018).

    Greed, cruelty and lack of human empathy used to be pretty good reasons to hate multi-national corporations. Now tech companies have added so very many new ways to fall short of passing for human, it's actually kind of impressive.

    And to have them doing the governments' (OURS) dirty work on free speech is like a marriage made in rigorously-non-religious, gender-non-specific, normativity-rejecting HEAVEN!

  • EscherEnigma||

    That's capitalism for you. Putting financial rewards over any and all other considerations.

    Or to put it another way... Everytime a company tried to do "the right thing", y'all insist they should leave politics at the door and just try to make money. This is Google doing exactly that. You got what you said you wanted.

  • vek||

    Uhhh, that's NOT what they're doing though.

    They're making business decisions that HURT their financial performance for political reasons. Google booting off all the conservatives/libertarians and even hard core right wingers off of YouTube has COST them tons of money. Some guys like Alex Jones were some of the biggest people on these platforms.

    They're literally throwing profit away to push an agenda, which is exactly the opposite of just going for the money.

  • vek||

    As for China, one could kind of argue they just want the money... Which might be a fair reading if one only was looking at this single instance, but all of the above makes me think not. If anything they probably want to hash out better ways of filtering the internet, and are just using China as a template they'd like to apply elsewhere, because they're asshole authoritarians themselves.

  • khm001||

    I like how you pretend politicians preventing the owners of capital from using that capital as the capital owners want is somehow capitalism, despite the fact capitalism is about capital owners using their capital as they want, without interference from government.

  • buybuydandavis||

    What's the problem?

    I thought "free trade" with Emperor Xi was win-win for everybody, and only troglodytes who knew nothing about economics could think otherwise.

  • Silence Dogoode||

    So, Google management doesn't like Trump because he "abuses" power, yet they want money from China so they will write a program for the Chinese government can abuse its people.

  • Silence Dogoode||

    So, Google management doesn't like Trump because he "abuses" power, yet they want money from China so they will write a program for the Chinese government can abuse its people.

  • rajpe||

    Has Google filed the paperwork acknowledging that they are "agents of a foreign government"?
    .
    If Google has not done this, aren't they guilty of violating federal law?

  • Empress Trudy||

    Not 'almost'. There are no limits. If China told them to kill people they'd do it.

  • leninsmummy||

    my God. Google (with all is virtue signaling) should be exposed and it's monopoly taken apart. This project needs to be headline news, and the engineer needs to go before Congress. This is way more important than what they're up to this week.

  • annysmith||

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