The Terrifying Moment at the Congressional Google Hearing Today

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During a radio interview a few minutes ago, I was asked for my opinion regarding Google CEO Sundar Pichai’s hearing at Congress today. 

There’s a lot that can be said about this hearing. Sundar confirmed that Google does not plan to go ahead with a Chinese government censored search engine — right now. 

Most of the hearing involved the ridiculous, false continuing charges that Google’s search results are politically biased — they’re not.

But relating to that second topic, I heard one of the scariest demands ever uttered by a member of the U.S. Congress.

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) wants Google to hand over to Congress the identities of the Googlers whose work relates to search algorithms. King made it clear that he wants to examine these private individuals’ personal social media postings, his direct implication being that showing a political orientation in your personal postings would mean that you’d be incapable of doing your work on search in an unbiased manner.

This is worse than wrong, worse than stupid, worse than lunacy — it’s outright dangerous McCarthyism of the first order.

Everything else that occurred in that hearing pales into insignificance compared with King’s statement.

King continued by threatening Google with various punitive actions if Google refuses to agree to his demand regarding Google employees, and also to turn over the details of how the Google search algorithms are designed — which of course Congress would leak — setting the stage for search to be gamed and ruined by every tech-savvy wacko and crook.

Steve King has a long history of crazy, racist remarks, so it’s no surprise that he also rants into straitjacket territory when it comes to Google as well.

But his remarks today regarding Google were absolutely chilling, and they need to be widely and vigorously condemned in no uncertain terms.

–Lauren–

Recent Google Posts

Views: 152

Can We Trust Google?
https://lauren.vortex.com/2018/12/10/can-we-trust-google

The DATA Says: Google’s “Dragonfly” Chinese Search Is Doomed
https://lauren.vortex.com/2018/11/28/the-data-says-googles-dragonfly-chinese-search-is-doomed

Save Google — but Let Facebook Die
https://lauren.vortex.com/2018/11/22/save-google-but-let-facebook-die

After the Walkout, Google’s Moment of Truth
https://lauren.vortex.com/2018/11/03/after-the-walkout-googles-moment-of-truth

Beware of “Self-Selected” Surveys of Google Employees
https://lauren.vortex.com/2018/10/30/beware-of-self-selected-surveys-of-google-employees

Why Internet Tech Employees Are Rebelling Against Military Contracts
https://lauren.vortex.com/2018/10/15/why-internet-tech-employees-are-rebelling-against-military-contracts

The Death of Google
https://lauren.vortex.com/2018/10/08/the-death-of-google

–Lauren–

Can We Trust Google?

Views: 1954

I consider Google to be a great company. I have many friends who are Googlers. I am dependent on many Google services and products.

But if you’ve gotten the sense that Google has been flailing around in a seemingly uncoordinated fashion lately, like a chainsaw run wild, you’re not the only one. And I’m not talking right now about their nightmare “Dragonfly” Chinese censorship project or the righteous rising tide of their own employees’ protests.

Let’s talk about the users. Let’s talk about you and me.

Some of Google’s management decisions are chopping Google’s most loyal users to figurative bloody bits.

Google has fantastic engineering teams, world-class privacy and security teams, brilliant lawyers, and so many other wonderful human and technical resources — yet Google’s upper management apparently still hasn’t really grown up.

To put it bluntly, Google management in key respects treats ordinary users like disposable bathroom paper products, to be used and quickly disposed of without significant consideration of the ultimate impacts.

There’s a site out on the Web that calls itself the Google Graveyard — they list all the Google services that have appeared and then unceremoniously vanished over the years, leaving seas of disappointed and upset users in their wake.

Today Google apparently announced that they’re pushing up the death date for consumer Google+ to April. Just recently they said it was going to be next August, so loyal G+ users — and don’t believe the propaganda, there are vast numbers of them — were planning on the basis of that original date. Google is simultaneously citing a new minor G+ security bug and is apparently using that as an excuse. But we know that’s bogus, because Google simultaneously notes that this minor bug only existed for less than a week and there was no evidence of it being exploited.

Google just wants to dump its social media users who aren’t on YouTube. No matter the many years that those users on G+ have spent building up vibrant communities on the platform. We know Google isn’t killing the essential G+ technical infrastructure, since they plan to continue it for their enterprise (paying) customers.

Who knows, maybe Google will next announce that consumer G+ will shut down 48 hours from now.

Let’s face it, you simply cannot depend on Google honorably even sticking to their own service shutdown dates and not pulling the plug earlier — users be damned! Who really cares about the impacts on those users, right?

You want another recent example? Glad you asked! Google over the last handful of days suddenly, and with no notification at all, started removing a feature from Google Voice, causing the way incoming calls are treated by the system to suddenly change for users employing that option in call screening. Because Google didn’t bother to notify any Google Voice users about this in advance, users only found out when their callers started expressing confusion about what was going on. I’m in useful discussions with the Google Voice team about this situation, and Google asserts that most users didn’t choose a mix of options that were affected by this.

But that’s not the point! For those users who did use that option set, this was a big deal, a major disruptive change that they were not told about (and in fact, still have not officially been informed about as far as I know), leaving them no opportunity to take reasonable proactive actions and limit the negative impacts.

The list of similarly affected Google products and services goes on and on.  Google adds and removes features and changes user interfaces without warning, explanation, or frequently even any documentation. They kill off services — used by millions — on short notice, and even when they give a longer notice they may then suddenly chop months from that interval, as they have with G+.

Some might argue that users who don’t pay for Google services shouldn’t expect much more than nuthin’. But that’s garbage.

Vast numbers of persons depend on Google for many aspects of their lives. In many cases, they would happily pay reasonable fees for better support and some guarantees that Google won’t suddenly kill their favorite services! Innumerable people have told me how they’d happily pay to use consumer G+ or Google Voice under those conditions, and the same goes for many other Google services as well.

And yet, except for the limited offerings in “Google One” and media offerings like YouTube and Music premium services, essentially the only other way to pay for standard Google services is through Google’s “G Suite” enterprise model, which is domain-centric and far more appropriate for corporate users than for individuals.

Google knows that as time goes on their traditional advertising revenue model will become decreasingly effective. This is obviously one reason why they’ve been pivoting toward paid service models aimed at businesses and other organizations. That doesn’t just include G Suite, but great products like their AI offerings, Google Cloud, and more.

But no matter how technically advanced those products, there’s a fundamental question that any potential paying user of them must ask themselves. Can I depend on these services still being available a year from now? Or in five years? How do I know that Google won’t treat business users the same ways as they’ve treated their consumer users?

In fact, sadly, I hear this all the time now. Users tell me that they had been planning to move their business services to Google, but after what they’ve seen happening on the consumer side they just don’t trust Google to be a reliable partner going forward.

And I can’t blame folks for feeling this way. As the old saying goes, “Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.”

The increasingly shabby way that Google treats consumer users in the respects that I’ve been discussing here has real world impacts on how potential business users view Google.  The fact that Google has been continuing to pull the rug out from under their most loyal consumer users has not been lost on business observers, who know that even though Google’s services are usually technically superior, that fact alone is not enough to trust Google with your business operations.

Google works quite hard it seems to avoid thinking much about these negative impacts. That’s part of the reasons, I believe, why Google fights so hard against filling commonly accepted roles that so many firms have found to be so incredibly useful, such as ombudspersons, ethics officers, and user advocates.

In some ways, Google management still behaves as if Google was still a bunch of PCs stacked up in a garage. They still have not really taken responsibility for their important place in the world.

Personally, I still believe that Google can turn around this situation for the better. However, I am forced to admit that to date, I do not see significant signs of their being willing to take the significant steps and to make the serious changes necessary for this to occur.

–Lauren–

The DATA Says: Google’s “Dragonfly” Chinese Search Is Doomed

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Google’s highly controversial “Dragonfly” project, exploring the possibility of providing Chinese-government censored and controlled search to China, is back in the news — with continuing protests by concerned Google employees, including public letters and other actions.

I have previously explained my opposition to this project and my solidarity with these Googlers, in posts such as: “Google Admits It Has Chinese Censorship Search Plans – What This Means” (https://lauren.vortex.com/2018/08/17/google-admits-it-has-chinese-censorship-search-plans-what-this-means) and other related essays.

There are a multitude of reasons to be skeptical about this project, ranging from philosophical to emotional to economic. Basic issues relating to freedom of speech and individual rights come into play when dealing with an absolute dictatorship that sends people to “reeducation” camps where they are tortured merely for having the “wrong” religions, or where making an “inappropriate” comment on the tightly-controlled Chinese Internet can result in authorities dragging you away to secret prisons.

There is also ample evidence to suggest that if Google proceeds to provide such search services in China, they will be mercilessly attacked by politicians from both sides of the aisle, many of whom already are in the ranks of the Google Haters.

But for the moment, let’s attempt to set such horrors and the politics aside, and look at Dragonfly in the cold, hard logic of available data. Google famously considers itself to be a “data-driven” company. Does the available data suggest that Dragonfly would be practical for Google to implement and operate going forward?

The answer is clearly negative.

Philosopher George Santayana’s notable assertion that: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” is basically another way of saying “If you ignore the data staring you in the face, don’t be surprised when you get screwed.”

And the data regarding the probability of getting burned, screwed, or otherwise bulldozed by China is plentiful.

Google of course has plenty of specific data in hand about this. They tried providing censored search to China around a decade ago. The result was (as many of us predicated at the time) ever-increasing demands for more censorship and more control from the Chinese government, and then a series of Chinese-based hack attacks against Google itself, causing Google to correctly pull the plug on that project.

Fast forward to today, and Google management seems to be asserting that somehow THIS time it will all be different and work out just fine. Is there any data to suggest that this view is accurate?

Again, the answer is clearly no. In fact, vast evidence suggests exactly the opposite.

The optimistic assertions of Dragonfly proponents might have a modicum of validity if there were any evidence that China has been moving in a positive direction relating to speech and other human rights (in either or both of the technological and non-technological realms) in the years since Google’s original attempt to provide censored Chinese search.

But the data regarding China’s behavior over this period clearly demonstrates China moving in precisely the contrary direction! 

China has used this time not to improve the human rights of its people, but to massively tighten its grip and to escalate its abuses in nightmarish ways. And especially to the point of this discussion, China’s ever more dictatorially monitored and controlled Internet has become a key tool in the government’s campaign of terror.

China has turned the democratic ideals of the Internet’s founders on their heads, and have morphed their own Internet into a bloody bludgeon to use against its own people, and even against Chinese persons living outside of China.

The reality of course is that China is an economic powerhouse — the West has already sold its economic soul to China to a major degree. There is no reversing that in the foreseeable future. Neither threats nor tariffs will make a real difference.

But we still do have some free choice when it comes to China.

And one specific choice — a righteous and honorable choice indeed — is to NOT get into bed with the Chinese dictators’ Internet control and censorship regime.  

Giving the Chinese government dictators any control over Google search results would be effectively tantamount to embracing their horrific abuses — PR releases to the contrary notwithstanding.

The data — the history — teaches us clearly that there is no “just dipping your toe into the water” when it comes to collaboration with unrepentant, dictatorial regimes in the process of extending and accelerating their abuses, as is the case with China. You will not be able to make China behave any “better” through your actions. But you will inevitably be ultimately dragged body and soul into their putrid deeps. 

The data is obvious. The data is devastating. 

Google should immediately end its dance with China over Chinese censored search. Dragonfly and any similar projects should be put out of their miseries for good and all.

–Lauren–

Save Google — but Let Facebook Die

Views: 919

Do you know why Facebook is called Facebook? The name dates back to founder Mark Zuckerberg’s “FaceMash” project at Harvard, designed to display photos of students’ faces (without their explicit permissions) to be compared in terms of physical attractiveness. Essentially, a way he and his friends could avoid dating “ugly” people by his definition. Zuck even toyed with the idea of comparing those student photos with shots of farm animals. 

Immature. Exploitative. Verging on pre-echos of evils to come.

Fast forward to Facebook of today. As we’ve watched Zuckerberg’s baby expand over the years like a mutant virus from science fiction, we’ve had plenty of warnings that the at best amoral attitudes of Zuck and his hand-picked cronies have permeated the Facebook ecosystem. 

It’s long been a given that Facebook ruthlessly controls, limits, and manipulates the data that users are shown — to its own financial advantage. 

But long before we learned of Facebook’s deep embeds in right-wing politics, and the Russians’ own deep manipulative embeds in Facebook, there were other clues that Facebook’s ethical compass was virtually nonexistent.

Remember when it was discovered that Facebook was manipulating information shown to specific sets of users to see if their emotional states could be altered by such machinations without their knowledge? 

Over and over again, Facebook has been caught in misstatements, in subterfuge, in outright lies — including the recent revelations of their paying an outside PR hit firm to fabricate attack pieces on other firms to divert attention from Facebook’s own spreading problems, even to the extent of the firm reportedly spreading false antisemitic conspiracy theories.

Zuck and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg found an outgoing employee to fall on his sword to take official responsibility for this, and initially both Zuck and Sheryl publicly disclaimed any knowledge of that outside firm’s actions. But now Sheryl has apparently reversed herself, admitting that information about the firm did reach her desk. And do you really believe that control freaks like Mark Zuckerberg and Sandberg weren’t being kept informed about this in some manner all along? C’mon!

Facebook of course is not the only large Internet firm with ethical challenges. Recently in “The Death of Google” (https://lauren.vortex.com/2018/10/08/the-death-of-google), and “After the Walkout, Google’s Moment of Truth” (https://lauren.vortex.com/2018/11/03/after-the-walkout-googles-moment-of-truth), I noted Google’s own ethical failings of late, and my suggestions for making Google a better Google. Importantly, those posts were not predicting Google’s demise, but rather were proposing means to help Google avoid drifting further from the admirable principles of its founding (“organizing and making available the world’s information” — in sharp contrast to Facebook’s seminal “avoid dating ugly people” design goal).  So both of those posts regarding Google were in the manner of Dickens’  “Ghost of Christmas Future” — a discussion of bad outcomes that might be, not that must be.  

Saving Google is a righteous and worthy goal.

Not so Facebook. Facebook’s business model is and has always been fundamentally rotten to its core, and the more that this core has been exposed to the public, the more foul the stench of rotten decay that Facebook emits.

“Saving” Facebook would mean helping to perpetuate the sordid, manipulative mess of Facebook today, that reaches back to its very beginnings — a creation that no longer deserves to exist.

In theory, Facebook could change its ways in positive directions, but not without abandoning virtually everything that has characterized Facebook since its earliest days. 

And there is no indication — zero, none, nil — that Zuckerberg has any intention of letting that happen to his self-made monster.

So in the final analysis — from an ethical standpoint at least — there is no point to trying to “save” Facebook — not from regulators, not from politicians, and certainly not from itself. 

The likely end of Facebook as we know it today will not come tomorrow, or next month, or even perhaps over a short span of years. 

But the die has been cast, and nothing short of a miracle will save Facebook in the long run. And whether or not you believe in miracles, Facebook doesn’t deserve one.

–Lauren–