Friday, March 12, 2010

Competing to Sell our Souls to Big Brother

Madison is abuzz (pun intended) over Google's search for a guinea-pig city for its experimental high-speed fiber network. I find it amusing that, while someone started a Facebook page called "Bring Google Fiber to Madison Wisconsin!", apparently no one thought to demonstrate community support (one of Google's vague criteria for choosing the winning city) via Google's own shiny-new social network.

I am hesitant to be an early adopter with anything Google. I thought long and hard about opening a Gmail account. I admit I was creeped out from the start by the fact that Google's bots would monitor the content of my emails for advertising purposes. I'm of a generation that still read Orwell in high school. Americans have fought long and hard to keep our government from eroding our privacy, only to happily give it up to a private-sector corporation whose "Don't Be Evil" slogan is laughably ironic in the face of Google's Chinese ventures.

Google agreed to censor its search engine in China in exchange for the opportunity to enter the Chinese market (and gain lucrative advertising revenue thereby). Google (perhaps unwittingly, perhaps not) provided the totalitarian Chinese government with all sorts of incriminating information on democracy activists and other dissident citizens through those citizens' Gmail accounts.

Last month, Google signed up all Gmail users (not only without their permission, but even against their will) for their new Buzz social network, turning private email contacts into public followers. This was an attempt to leverage Google's market power in the web-based email world into market power in the world of social networking, all the better to sell you stuff. Does anyone doubt that Google will closely monitor all Internet traffic over their high-speed network and share the information with advertisers?

Remember how concerned civil libertarians were over the previous administration's warrantless wiretaps, and the big telecom companies' collusion (and subsequent request for immunity)? Google is on the way to having more information on Americans (law-abiding and otherwise) in its databases than the NSA, CIA and FBI combined. If the Chinese government could hack into its citizens' Gmail accounts, do you really think our government can't? Thanks to Google's search algorithms, fishing expeditions will be faster and cheaper than ever.

And why in the world is everyone assuming that Google will foot the entire $97 million construction cost for its test network? They cite both community support and resources as criteria. Don't you think they'll expect TIF money, or at least a property tax exemption? Jerry Frautschi taught Madison taxpayers that it's a good idea to look that gift horse in the mouth, since you'll be paying the dental bills.

For more information, read Erik Paulson's excellent analysis, Kristin Czubkowski's latest summary, and the Onion's typically-prescient satire.

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