Yes, we all know Google. But WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange holds a different, darker, shrewder view of it.
We use it every day, and entrust it with an ever-increasing amount of our pictures, documents, and presentations. We are all familiar with its playfully artful seasonal logo strains and self-proclaimed corporate benevolence. Yes, we all know Google. But WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange holds a different, darker, shrewder view of it.
It all started with a visit from Google CEO Eric Schmidt, Google Ideas’ head Jared Cohen, and a small retinue of Washington-affiliated characters: they had reached out to Assange seeking an interview for an upcoming book that explored technology’s role as a prominent socio-political force in light of its role in the Arab Spring and its “Twitter-revolutions”.
After a subsequent investigation, Assange soon discovered that this party was not an impromptu arrangement of public and private influencers, but rather a deep-rooted coalition that had been decades in the making.
Assange stakes the claim that Google’s alter-ego is a multi-million-dollar military contractor that supplies and shares in surveillance intelligence with the NSA, CIA and NGA, exerts a strong influence on a cohort of political magnates and Washington power circles, and worked in close collaboration with the Government to act as a foreign policy agenda proxy that could be even more proactive in its efforts thanks to the shield of private, philanthropic pretence.
Further, in his book When Google met WikiLeaks, Assange details how Google is nurturing a force of Internet activists that it may uncannily mobilize at the right time to enact its interests.
Conspirationalist? Perhaps. But there is no doubt that in this Internet age, conventional warfare with missiles and guns is a thing of the past – controlling the dissemination and generation of information is a far more pervasive and discreet tool, with the potential for far more power.
This is not to repudiate Google’s vision of working towards a better future – it is simply that its method may not be the anti-corporate, feel-good company we are so familiar with, but rather one that extols its role as the conduit for tech-driven neo-imperialism, in the spirit of global welfare, yet sought with inherent Western exceptionalism. This is the essence of Assange’s findings. The private and the public blur into a gargantuan, ubiquitous power mill.
Some of this may come as no surprise: the PRISM leaks exposed Google’s information-sharing collaboration under the Patriot act, but Google shouldered it and strode forward, while public opinion remained favorable.
According to Assange, this was not an exceptional case, but rather the tip of a deeply entrenched iceberg of mutual benefit between the Department of State and Google and other tech firms, all of which provide generous campaign funds and valuable services, in exchange for Washington influence, certain protection and access to larger markets.
For instance, Google provided technical assistance to the NGA in launching a spy satellite in 2008, while NSA analysts consolidated Google’s cyber security after an alleged Chinese hack in 2010. The relationship is now symbiotic.
How this relationship will evolve with the new administration remains to be seen: Google and other tech companies openly opposed Trump. Let us not forget that the plethora of “free” tech services that we enjoy on a daily basis, including the platform used by the president to conduct his signature “Twitter diplomacy”, are all privately owned and managed.
The echelons of tech may be less of the political outsiders that the public makes them out to be, and far more opaque and obscure Washington insiders.
Perhaps it was inevitable for Google to mingle in defense and government after becoming a monopolistic essential service provider – many would be very interested in affecting how information is disseminated, after all. But the Google we grew up knowing is no more, and perhaps never was: Assange postulates that Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page’s original research project was partly enabled by DARPA funds.
Regardless of whether one accepts Assange’s findings or disregards them, the fact remains: with the power to directly influence a billion search results a day, Google is in a unique, unprecedented position to advance an agenda if it so wished to. Internet surfing is essential for modern living: let us pay close attention to how pure this lifeblood of ideas is.