March 30, 2013

The Washington Post's "What if Google Were Evil" Idiocy

To watch the accelerating fall from grace of the once venerable Washington Post is perhaps to view traditional journalism's quandary in a nutshell.

First, their ombudsman suggested it was unlikely that the Post would implement a paywall, for a variety of sound reasons.

Then the Post fired their ombudsman. Then they announced the availability of notorious "sponsored posts" throughout their pages.

And it's been ever more rapidly downhill for the Post from there, with their now giving credence to serial Google hater Robert Epstein's ramblings.

Epstein -- a psychologist by trade -- is an interesting character. He's a big promoter of the concept that what we all really need is governments regulating search engines and search results. You know, the same governments that are cracking down on free speech around the world and extending surveillance into every aspect of our lives -- including right here in the USA. Governments in some cases that demand search results censorship when those results aren't favorable to their rulers. Governments promoting Stalinist and Orwellian "let's blot out history!" concepts like the hideous "right to be forgotten."

Those governments. Take a look, they're all around us, pretty much getting worse every day. Epstein wants them in control of our information as well.

Robert Epstein's hatred of Google appears to date back to when he became upset that Google search results were tagging his website as possibly being contaminated with malware -- because, well, ya' know, uh, they indeed were so contaminated.

Epstein apparently became concerned that Google was able to warn people away from sites that might ruin computers, seemingly based on his bizarre reasoning that helping to protect people's systems was just too much power.

Now the Post is providing real estate to Epstein's latest tirades, his theory that if Google suddenly turned evil, they might be able to theoretically alter the outcomes of close elections.

Ah, the magic "if." We're in big trouble "if" President Obama goes mad and launches a nuclear strike. We're up the creek if our brakes fail on the freeway at 70 miles per hour, or if our dogs suddenly turn on us and rip out our throats.

I'm reminded of a wonderful old episode of the original 1964 series The Outer Limits, about a humanoid robot falsely accused of murdering his creator.

The robot -- Adam -- is intelligent, knowledgeable, gentle, and with good will toward all. But in an attempt to prove he's a killer -- to try demonstrate an "if" and that it's theoretically possible for the robot to be dangerous -- the government modifies his circuitry to purposely trigger a violent outburst.

In the end, as he's being escorted away calmly to be dismantled, he sees a little girl about to be hit by a truck, and cheats the executioner by allowing himself to be crushed in the process of saving the child.

Web firms like Google and most others, who exist by virtue of providing services that users value in an environment where competition is usually just a click away, have every reason to want search results and other information to be as useful and honest as possible.

For anyone to postulate such firms secretly morphing into the functional equivalent of James Bond super villains is nonsensical, and to argue that government regulation of search results and information availability would be anything other than a disaster is at the very least ignorant, and perhaps purposely deceptive.

On the other hand, we already know that governments around the world seem hell-bent on devaluing and even crushing civil liberties, while increasingly tightly controlling information for their own benefits. The last thing we need is government controls over the firms that have become our gateways to the very knowledge helping to empower us to make our own decisions about our lives and our world.

All the wacky "ifs" that anyone can imagine aren't going to convince us otherwise.

"If" you get my drift.


Posted by Lauren at March 30, 2013 12:53 PM | Permalink
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