The Big G

Jan 26, 2012 by

“Data banks are the Encyclopedia of tomorrow. They transcend the capacity of each of their users. They are ‘nature’ for postmodern man.” Lyotard.

 

A decade ago a group of philosopher undergrads sat around a UCR Commons table talking naturalized epistemology, John Rawls and the problems associated with being a cellist when your only means of transportation was a motorcycle. One of our company produced a smart looking gadget with a wide looking screen and a multitude of buttons. “I got this from work,” he exclaimed. “They are loaning out GPS units so that we can play with them and promote them to customers.” We all oohed and awed appropriately. He proceeded to push a large red button. “Gentlemen,” he gestured grandly skyward. “Somewhere, up there, a satellite now has you in its eye.” He showed us the screen, provided us with our geographical coordinates, and we all shivered a little bit inwardly.

Over the past decade the satellites in the air have moved to complete and perfect our understanding of physical geography – And in so doing they have also made me part of their subject. The satellite has placed me within the context and made my presence an object of its encyclopedic reach (My Barn is even on Google Earth).

Analysis/knowledge is extracted and recirculated in a tightly woven circle.

Google recently sent another Orwellian chill down my spine when they announced March 1st they will begin a new privacy policy. Google will now link all its many services into one dossier collecting, web enhancing, Big Brother-esque, information dump. Gmail, Youtube, your calendar, Google’s search engine, android phones etc. will all be used to compile and maintain a history of all of your internet use – And you can not opt out.  All of this information will be used to supply you with ads tailored to meet your needs to redirect your searches to information you are more likely to find useful and to bolster Google’s flagging stock price by increasing its adverting revenue.

This should come as no surprise though. In a May 2007 interview with the Financial Times, Google chief executive Eric Schmidt said “gathering more personal data was a key way for Google to expand and the company believes that this the logical extension of its stated mission to organize the world’s information” (Daniel). In five years time Schmidt went on to say “The goal is to enable Google users to be able to ask the question such as ‘what shall I do tomorrow?’ and ‘what job shall I take’” (Daniel).

Google wants to spend vast amounts of resources analyzing my internet history, archiving my photos, sifting my email and even recording my voice for voice identification. Such an intense amount of personal interest and expenditure of resources should be flattering! If Google’s stated mission is to “organize information,” I am certainly some small part of the Universe’s total sum of information. But Google is not only attempting to classify me, they are attempting to mold my interests, desires and the kinds of information that I am likely to find by reifying me to myself. I will only search for what I desire and I will increasingly only be able to find what I search for. Ultimately my capacity for knowledge will be limited to the tightly woven circle of my own desires.

Orwell's Omnipresent Big Brother was never intended to be used as a goal.

 

But I had better be able to share those desires with the whole world! In 2009 Schmidt responded to a question from CNBC regarding internet privacy that “if you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place” (Metz). Only perverts and money launderers apparently should have any expectation of privacy. Schmidt went on to explain that all of your information (emails, search history, Lily Allen videos you secretly watch on Youtube) are all ultimately accessible to the government. “If you really need that kind of privacy, the reality is that search engines – including Google – do retain this information for some time and it’s important, for example, that we are all subject in the United States to the Patriot Act and it is possible that all that information could be made available to the authorities” (Metz). This of course eschews a larger point. Schmidt deflects answering the question by attacking people who might have any expectation of privacy and never even addresses the millions of people accessing these sites who have absolutely no idea who is watching them or who might be watching them in the future.

Yet we are expected to trust Google. Google, an American company, helped to censure the internet for its Chinese users and created Google.cn. According to the BBC “The Chinese government keeps a tight rein on the internet and what users can access. The BBC news site is inaccessible, while a search on Google.cn for the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement directs users to a string of condemnatory articles” (BBC). In 2010 Google reversed its policy after international criticism and increasingly losing market share to Baidu.

China’s censorship is another example of modeling your information sources on your own peculiar desires. The difference is that China bases their censorship on their political/economic agenda, and America via its search, engines bases its censorship on our personal desires for consumption.  Zhang Jingwei, defended China’s censorship policy in a People’s Daily article arguing that “It is a lie to claim that the Internet is an absolutely free space without regulations. The truth is that it is the extension of the real world. Therefore, implementing monitoring according to a country’s national context is what any government has to do” (Jingwei).

The needs and desires of the Chinese people Jingwei argues are different from the needs and desires of Americans. “The Chinese society has generally less information bearing capacity than developed countries such as the U.S., which is an objective reality that no one can deny. Chinas intellectuals living in China should show understanding to the motherland’s weakness” (Jingwei). But this eschews the idea that there is a common intellectual realm shared by all humans by virtue of being human, regardless of culture. It suggests that the U.S. is right in perfecting its capitalist hegemony over itself, and that China is equally correct in following it’s own peculiar ideology.

Ultimately the Chinese government hacked into Google’s email accounts and used the information they discovered to prosecute ten political rights activists. And that of course is one of the major problems. Even if Google is as benign as any corporation can be, that cache of omniscience is out there, seemingly indefinitely for a perhaps scrupulous government or unscrupulous hacker to ultimately obtain.

And omniscience may not be a bad noun to apply to the big G. After all Google co-founder Sergy Brin once claimed that he saw the search engine “as more than just a way to find free music. The perfect search engine would be like the mind of God” (Agger)

 

 

 

Works Cited

Agger, Michael. “Does Google Know Too Much About Us?” Slate Magazine. Slate, 10 Oct. 2007. Web.

Daniel, Caroline, and Maija Palmer. “Google’s Goal: To Organize Your Daily Life.” Financial Times Daily. Wall Street Journal, 22 May 2007. Web.

“Google Censors Itself For China.” BBC. Web.

Jenkins, Holman. “Google and the Search for the Future.” Financial Times Daily. Wall Street Journal, 14 Aug. 2010. Web.

Jingwei, Zhang. “Google, Do Not Take Chinese Netizens Hostage.” People’s Daily. 19 Jan. 2010. Web.

Lyotard, Jean-Francois. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2002. Print.

Metz, Cade. “If You Don’t Want Anyone to Know, Don’t Do It.” The Register. The Register, 7 Dec. 2010. Web.

 

 

 

 

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3 Comments

  1. “I will increasingly only be able to find what I search for.” That made a shiver run down my back.

  2. The End is Near

    And the problem is?

  3. The problem is that the more personalized Google becomes, the more control it gets over which websites we see and what information we find, by hiding websites it thinks we don’t want and showcasing the ones Google thinks we will like. This keeps us in a box. How can we grow and expand our interests when Google keeps giving us only what it thinks we want?

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