Knowledge is power, but it does not exist in a vacuum. In any society, but especially an interconnected, technological society, those who can control the majority of the information flows are possessed of, not just great power, but arguably, the greatest power. This is not to say that control of data flows, nor power more generally, is always a negative eventuality (quite the contrary); some forms of information (such as those pertinent to the manufacture of deadly diseases or nuclear weaponry, etc) should be, it can be plausibly argued, controlled, and stringently. However, quite obviously, the majority of information placed onto the public sphere falls well outside this classification-range, thus, it is important to understand who controls what, where and how, and to evaluate such organizations and their practices without undue preconception.
With that firmly in mind, we can turn our attention to the report-proper, which looks to key nexus-points of information generation and control, in as thorough and metadiagrammatic a fashion as possible.
Alphabet Incorporated (Google)
“[Google’s] atmosphere of creativity and
challenge… has helped us provide
unbiased, accurate and free access to
information for those who rely on us
around the world.”
—Larry Page and Sergey Brin
2004 Founders’ IPO Letter
“Alphabet is mostly a collection of companies. The largest of which, of course, is Google. This newer Google is a bit slimmed down, with the companies that are pretty far afield of our main internet products contained in Alphabet instead. […] Fundamentally, we believe this allows us more management scale, as we can run things independently that aren’t very related.” — Larry Page, G Is For Google. 2015.
- Lawrence Edward Page (Co-founder of Alphabet Inc & Google, billionaire).
- Sergey Mikhaylovich Brin (Co-founder of Alphabet Inc & Google, billionaire).
- Sundar Pichai (CEO of Google since 2015 restructuring, Board of Directors, Alphabet).
- Eric Schmidt (Princeton-educated former executive chair of Alphabet Inc, former CEO of Google, Board of Directors, Alphabet, billionaire).
HQ: 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View, CA 94043, US.
Whilst the name of Google is globally ubiquitous, Alphabet Inc. is considerably less well known. Alphabet Inc (abc.xyz) is a corporate holding conglomerate forged out of the 2015 restructuring of Google and the tech-giant’s present parent company.
Alphabet’s Google is the single most trafficked website on earth. As such, it is also the single greatest conduit to information on earth and thus, potentially, the single greatest barricade. For sometime it has been something of an open secret that Google is partial to modulating its search engine to garner added visibility to company-approved topics and memory-hole sites deemed inimical to the software leviathan’s goals. Proof of this penchant for soft, creeping censorship can be found in the form of both their internally directed and externally directed campaigns (those solicited by foreign governments, such as China), as well as in their own written/spoken documentation or documentation obtained from Google (and its subsidies) staff.
Corporate censorship practices
Google and by extension, Alphabet’s famous operative slogan “Don’t be evil” is a fascinating encapsulation of the moral rectitude of the company. Unfortunately for many, this sense of self-righteousness has led to more than one scandal involving censorship, a policy which has been admitted to and affirmed by Google internal documentation, most notably the infamous Good Censor memo, an 85 page document which lays out the company’s belief that the ‘American tradition’ of free speech was based on a misbegotten “utopian narrative,” and as a consequence, was no longer viable. In place of American concepts of free expression and speech, Google opted for what they call the ‘European tradition’ – ie. ‘good censorship’ through the prizing of “dignity over liberty” and “civility over freedom.”
One of the European laws which Google mentions in its memo include the 2017 German Network Enforcement Act, informally referred to as the ‘Facebook Act’ which can entail a fine of up to €50 million (approximately 57 million USD) if a post designated as “hate speech” remains up for over 24 hours. To further compliance, the act stipulates that all social media companies covered under the ruling must submit public reports detailing number of posts flagged and removed. Facebook expressed concerns over the ruling, citing cultural-linguistic specificity, ie. some words, which are offensive in one culture, have a completely different meaning in another, such as “fag” which refers to a cigarette in Britain, but is a derisive term for a homosexual in America. The German government seemed unconcerned.
Google accomplishes much of its censorship through passive modification to its search engine via a autocomplete blacklist, that being, a list of words and phrases which are purposefully excluded from Google’s autocomplete feature. In 2016, during the presidential election, two extremely popular nicknames for Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton (who many top Google brass supported) concocted by then-candidate Donald Trump included “Lying Ted” and “Crooked Hillary.” At that time, if using Google search, autocomplete would fill out “Lying Ted” instantly, whereas it would not fill out “Crooked Hillary.”
Google acknowledges the existence of the blacklist in their internal memorandum.
In addition to the autocomplete blacklist, Google also maintains a blacklist of certain territories in Google Maps. Some of these voided regions are military installations, others the homes of the wealthy. If someone who is not governmental connect or ultra-rich wants their home residence struck from the map or voided they are in for some bad news, as Eric Schmidt, responding to a question concerning privacy-invasion via Google Maps responded “Just move.” The question this obviously raises is: To where? Mr. Schmidt’s comments, though bizarre to many, are well in keeping with his personal philosophy; for example, in 2010, via a conversation with The Wall Street Journal, Schmidt stated the following:
“We’re trying to figure out what the future of search is. I mean that in a positive way. We’re still happy to be in search, believe me. But one idea is that more and more searches are done on your behalf without you needing to type… I actually think most people don’t want Google to answer their questions. They want Google to tell them what they should be doing next.”
Corporate values & political activism
In 2016, after the election of Donald Trump an over 1-hour long confidential TGIF meeting video of top Google brass was leaked to the press, wherein various company staffers expressed their dismay and concern at the election of the new POTUS, which “conflicts with many of [Google’s] values,” and the need for Google to take a proactive stance in thwarting the Trump agenda. Google co-founder Sergey Brin takes a particularly hardline on Trump supporters, declaring that they were motivated by “boredom” and, at various points, compares them to fascists and rolls the idea around of increasing donations to progressive causes. Global Affairs VP, Kent Walker, echoing Brin, states that MAGA supporters are motivated by “fear, xenophobia, hatred, and a desire for answers that may or may not be there,” and later goes on to say that Google should bring its tremendous resources to bare upon the issue to ensure that the American Populist movement is rendered nothing more than a “hiccup” in the historical process, which, he believes, “bends towards progress.” Google CEO Sundar Pichai notes that Google’s AI and machine learning programs will be utilized to combat the “misinformation” of “low information voters.” CFO Ruth Porat broke down in tears during a consideration of the political situation. VP of ‘People Operations’ Eileen Naughton states that “diversity of opinion and political persuasion” are important and that she has heard from some conservative Google employees that they are “uncomfortable” being who they really are due to political polarization. Despite Naughton’s temperance and raising of the issue, a few months later James Damore would be fired from Google, allegedly due to his political beliefs regarding differences between men and women. Naughton also states the need for sweeping US immigration reform to remedy a “broken” system.
After the publication of the video by Bannon-created news site, Breitbart, Google released the following statement:
“At a regularly scheduled all hands meeting, some Google employees and executives expressed their own personal views in the aftermath of a long and divisive election season. For over 20 years, everyone at Google has been able to freely express their opinions at these meetings. Nothing was said at that meeting, or any other meeting, to suggest that any political bias ever influences the way we build or operate our products. To the contrary, our products are built for everyone, and we design them with extraordinary care to be a trustworthy source of information for everyone, without regard to political viewpoint.”
In 2017, after the publicization of Bannon and Trump’s muslim travel ban, numerous Google employees staged a walk-out in protest. During the protest, Sundar Pichai and Sergey Brin gave public speeches in solidarity with their employees and migrants at large. Brin also protested the POTUS’ travel ban with others during a demonstration at the San Francisco International Airport, stating, “I’m here because I’m a refugee” (Brin’s family emigrated from the Soviet Union in the 1979).
That same year Youtube (controlled by Google) was sued by conservative commentator, Dennis Prager, well known for his ‘Prager U’ video series. Prager alleged that Google via Youtube, was censoring conservative voices. In 2018, the case was thrown out; the judge, Lucy Koh, stated that Mr. Prager failed to show how Google, a private company at the time, had infringed upon his speech rights.
In 2018, Google witnessed a large data breach associated with its G+ platform, potentially affecting the personal information of 500,000 users. Fearing congressional investigation and subsequent action in the wake of the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal, the company willfully obfuscated this fact and did not inform their users that a breach had occurred until long after the fact.
Affiliated Group: SPLC
“When I was 5, I bought a pig for a dollar. I fattened it up and sold it for 12.” — Morris Dees, Peoples Magazine.
Like many other tech companies, Alphabet/Google solicits advice from the Southern Poverty Law Center, a 501(c)3 legal advocacy group created in the 1971 by Morris S. Dees and Joseph Levin Jr., to determine what is and what is not a “hate group.” The Southern Poverty Law Center made its name combating the Klu Klux Klan at a particularly volatile period in the latter organizations history and as such garnered significant acclaim. However, the modus operandi for the organization, as revealed by a pertinent investigation of the facts surrounding their campaigns can only be described as free-mongering for-profit. Additionally, the SPLC has a long history of defamatory campaigns which slander and tarnish the reputations of political opponents (both real and perceived) of the organization. One such victim of the SPLC’s slander campaigns was US Kentucky Senator, Rand Paul, who was designated a “extremist” by The Center.
Sources & further reading
- Ben Smith. (2018) Project Strobe: Protecting Your Data, Improving Third-Party APIs, & Sunsetting Consumer Google+. Google Blog.
- Casey Newton. (2018) A Looming Strike Over Project Dragonfly Is Putting New Pressure On Google. The Verge.
- Frederic Lardinois. (2015) Google Is Now Alphabet, But It Doesn’t Own Alphabet.com.
- Google. (2018) The Good Censor. Memo. Insight Labs.
- Hillary Grigonis. (2017) Network Enforcement Act Says Remove Hate Speech Or Pay Big Fine. Digital Trends.
- Holman Page. (2010) Google & The Search For The Future.
- Ismat Mangla. (2018) Google Data Breach: Everything You Need To Know. Experian.
- Kamelia Angelova. (2010) How Google End Up At War With China. Business Insider.
- Larry Page. (2015) G Is For Google. Googleblog.
- Peter Hasson. (2018) Facebook, Amazon, Google & Twitter All Work With Left-Wing SPLC. Daily Caller.
- Robert Epstein. (2016) The New Censorship: How did Google become the internet’s censor and master manipulator, blocking access to millions of websites? US News.
- Taylor Hatmaker. (2018) Google’s Sundar Pichai Will Face Congress Next Week. TechCrunch.
- SPLC Website.
- Personal curated archives [forthcoming to Logos]