Don’t Be Evil – Dammit

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If the road to Hell is, indeed, paved with good intentions then Google is laying down sixteen lanes of new asphalt on the information super highway to perdition… with “no exits”.

Google’s famous unofficial motto is “Don’t be evil”; a reflection of the aspirations of its idealistic founders. But, as Google establishes its hegemony in the information economy, that phrase is transmogrified from an ideal to an empty ironic slogan. When it comes to “good intentions”  and “evil”, it depends on who is doing the defining and Google is bent on owning the dictionary.

The New York Times reports that Google surpasses even the NSA when it comes to violating privacy by wiretapping its users. Two cases challenging Google’s data-mining practices are currently making their way through the courts.

“Google uses Gmail as its own secret data-mining machine, which intercepts, warehouses, and uses, without consent, the private thoughts and ideas of millions of unsuspecting Americans who transmit e-mail messages through Gmail,” lawyers for the plaintiffs argued on July 11, opposing Google’s motion to dismiss the case. On Thursday, Judge Lucy H. Koh of Federal District Court denied Google’s motion in a 43-page order that fought the company at almost every turn.

Google’s defense is chilling:

“Just as a sender of a letter to a business colleague cannot be surprised that the recipient’s assistant opens the letter, people who use Web-based e-mail today cannot be surprised if their communications are processed by the recipient’s” e-mail provider, the lawyers wrote.

Another breathtakingly ambitious project of Google’s is the book scanning project.  Google intends to digitally copy every existing book (past, present and future) in every language and store them on their servers.  On one level, this appears to be a noble endeavor; providing egalitarian access to all the great writings ever committed.  However, what are the consequences of one massive corporation aggregating and controlling all the documentation of human knowledge?  Should we be assuaged by their unofficial motto?  Should we give Google the benefit of the doubt?

If past is prologue, then there appears to be a reason to be concerned.

For more on this project check out this trailer for “Google & the World Brain: The Audacious Attempt to Control Human Knowledge“: