Google Better Have A Really Good Excuse....

or, why I was crying all morning.
Google, baby, I love you.  Still, if – if all this is not true, if – if you can explain it, if –
Google, don't do this to me.

an Investigation over at Alternet
By  Christopher Ketcham  and Travis Kelly

From Google Search to Google Earth, every move you make can be tracked by some feature of Google -- and intelligence agencies are drooling over the data.

In June 2007, Privacy International, a U.K.-based privacy rights watch- dog, cited Google as the worst privacy offender ...below... Facebook and AOL. other company was “coming close..."

Indeed, Google now controls an estimated 70 percent of the online search engine market, but its deep-drilling of user information — where we surf, whom we e-mail, what blogs we post, what pictures we share, what maps we look at, what news we read — extends far beyond the search feature to encompass the kind of “total information awareness” that privacy activists feared at the hands of the Bush Jr. administration’s much-maligned Total Information Awareness program.

Kevin Bankston, a privacy expert and attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation...: “In all of human history,” he says, “few if any single entities, other than the National Security Agency, have ever possessed such a hoard of sensitive data about so many people.” This is the sort of thing that should make the intelligence agencies, says Bankston, “drool with anticipation.” And drooling they are. Stephen Arnold, an IT expert who formerly worked at the defense and intelligence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. and who once consulted for Google, addressed this in a speech before a conference of current and former intelligence officials in Washington, D.C., in January 2006.

According to an audio recording in our possession, he reported Google was increasingly sought out by the U.S. intelligence services because click-stream data — and everything else Google archives — “is a tremendous opportunity for the intelligence community.” 


Among Google’s critics, [Robert David] Steele who, since leaving the CIA, has spent 20 years promoting the digital commons, is about as fierce as they come. “Google would have been an absolutely precious gift to humanity,” he says. “But Google is positioning itself to take over the digital commons. I personally have resolved that unless Google comes clean with the public, the company is now evil.” The question today is whether Google, in fact, will be forced to change its ways — and whether Congress and the intelligence agencies want it to.


At the extreme end of the spectrum, your every move can be tracked by some feature of Google....

If you use Google toolbar, the company can watch the amount of time you surf a website — the three minutes or three hours you spend on every page of that website. With Google’s acquisition of YouTube in 2006, viewing habits can be tracked. Google’s FriendConnect and Orkut archive your social networks. Google News, Books, Feedburner or Blogger log your reading habits. The writing you produce is stored on Google Docs, and your purchase habits and credit card numbers are captured by Google Checkout.

Also gathered are voiceprint and call habits, through Google Voice; travel interests, patterns and place associations, through Google Maps, Google Earth and Google StreetView; medical conditions, medical history and prescription drug use, through Google Health; photos of friends and family, through Google’s Picassa images; and general activities, through Google Calendar.

Then, there’s Google Desktop, which, at one point, offered what appeared to be an innocuous feature called “Search Across Computers.” This allowed Google to scan your computer to archive copies of text documents. In other words, just about everything on your PC — love letters, tax returns, business records, bad poetry — was duplicated on a remote Google server. (This function was discontinued on all platforms in January of this year.)...

....When you do a search, “cookies” installed on your computer record your IP address (a series of unique numbers that may be used to identify your computer), so Google can, in many contexts, identify a user. And it can do so with any of its applications.

...Gears Geolocation API, that... “can determine your location using nearby cell-towers or GPS for your mobile device or your computer’s IP address for your laptop.” 

...Google co-founder Sergey Brin and his biotech specialist wife, Anne Wojcicki, according to The Economist, have “brainstormed” with at least one prominent human genome researcher and approach genetics as a “database and computing problem.” This would tie in nicely with Google Health, launched in 2008 to take advantage of the growing trend of storing health records online, for easier access among diverse health care providers. Google has invested $3.9 million in Wojcicki’s biotech firm, 23andMe, whose “mission is to be the world’s trusted source of personal genetic information,” and which offers a basket of genetic tests to allow its customers to uncover ancestry, disease risks, and drug responses....

...Google has teamed up with marketing giant WPP to fund $4.6 million ... including one grant in the emerging field of “neuromarketing”: tracking everything from online navigation behavior to biofeedback metrics like heart rate, eye movement and brain wave activity in response to advertising stimuli. ...From Google’s standpoint, marketing — not surveillance — is the purpose..., as advertising generates most of Google’s $23 billion in annual revenue...: more personal information gathered on consumers means more effectively targeted ads, thus higher ad rates and profits. (Gmail users often note how advertising, directly related to the subject matter of recently sent mails or searches, pops up on their browsers.)


Google has developed into a soft- ware provider rivaling Microsoft, with this major distinction: almost all Google software is server-side, residing on massive Google computer banks, not your local PC, which means they own the content, not you. This is the paradigm shift of “cloud computing,”...


But one of the big problems with the cloud, and the danger it presents, is that the Fourth Amendment’s protections against search and seizure do not apply. The caveats are buried deep in the text that users usually skip over, and click “I agree,” to install a new application. But the consequences are huge, says Bankston. “When private data is held by a third party like Google, the Supreme Court has ruled that you ‘assume the risk’ of disclosure of that data.” When you store e-mail at Gmail — or, similarly, in the cloud at Yahoo or Hotmail — “you lose your constitutional protections immediately.”

To search and seize the information on your desktop, a law enforcement or intelligence agency requires a warrant or grand jury subpoena, after demonstrating probable cause before a judge or magistrate; or an order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (authorized by FISA); or a National Security Letter issued by the FBI, Department of Defense or CIA. But to obtain that same information stored on Google’s servers, there is a shortcut: Google, like a telecom provider, may supply the information voluntarily as long as the government can argue the information is needed as part of an “emergency.”


...In other words, the determinant of your privacy is what Google and the government decide behind closed doors.... Google’s links with the intelligence agency may stretch back to 2004. In 1999, the CIA founded an IT venture capital firm called In-Q-Tel to research and invest in new digital technologies focused on intelligence gathering. An In-Q-Tel-funded company, Keyhole, Inc., developed the satellite mapping technology that would be acquired in 2004 to become Google Earth. In-Q-Tel’s former director of technology assessment, Rob Painter, joined Google as a senior manager of Google Federal, his focus the “evangelizing and implementing [of ] Google Enterprise solutions for a host of users across the Intelligence and Defense Communities.”

In turn, Google has sold versions of its technology, especially Google Earth, to many U.S. agencies, including the U.S. Coast Guard, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the state of Alabama, and Washington, D.C. For the CIA, Google provided servers to support Intellipedia, a Wikipedia-like intranet for sharing intelligence. For the NSA, it supplied four “search appliances” and a maintenance contract, according to a FOIA investigation by the San Francisco Chronicle in 2008....

According to Christopher Soghoian, a former CNet blogger and a doctoral candidate studying privacy and computing at the University of Indiana who has researched Google, the intelligence services would be particularly interested in Google’s “backdoor” programs for surveillance. Soghoian notes that Google applications launch without telling users that the processing and data storage is conducted on remote servers, as long as an Internet connection is maintained — easy enough, given the ubiquity of wireless broadband. Even with no connection, software such as Google’s Gears enable “offline” access to the cloud, running applications and storing data on a PC (again, no cost, no fuss) until a connection is re-established and the new data can be uploaded to Google. 


“The government gets somebody on the other end of the line who’s from the intelligence or law enforcement community,” says Soghoian, “who knows how they work, and maybe is sympathetic to their cause. Google doesn’t put former ACLU lawyers in charge of its compliance team.” 


Google also works with some of the top players in the surveillance industry, notably Lockheed Martin and SRA International. SRA is listed as a Google “enterprise partner” — more than a hundred such partners are listed on the Google website.

Both companies, Lockheed and SRA, have engineered and sold data-mining software to the intelligence agencies. SRA’s NetOwl program, for example, has been described by a blogger at Pennsylvania State University, who watched the application in action at a corporate recruiter forum, as “searching all kinds of documents using Google for a certain person.” ...

Former CIA officer Robert Steele says that the CIA’s Office of Research and Development had, at one point, provided funding for Google. According to its literature, ORD has a charter to push beyond the state of the art, developing and applying technologies and equipment more advanced than anything commercially available, including communications, sensors, semi-conductors, high-speed computing, artificial intelligence, image recognition and database management....

Then, there are the intelligence officials allegedly working at Google’s Mountain View headquarters. When tech guru Stephen Arnold first revealed this information in the 2006 OSS conference. Anthony Kimery, a veteran intelligence reporter at Homeland Security Today, followed up with a report alleging a “secret relationship” between Google and U.S. intelligence. Google was “cooperat[ing] with U.S. intelligence agencies to provide national and homeland security-related user information from its vast databases,” with the intelligence agencies “working to ‘leverage Google’s [user] data monitoring’ capability as part of an effort to glean from this data information of ‘national security intelligence interest’ in the war on terror.” In other words, Google’s databases — or, some targeted portion — may have been dumped straight into the maw of U.S. intelligence agencies.

Like the giants of the surveillance-industrial complex, Google has backed its federal sales force in Reston, Virginia, with a D.C. lobbying operation — spending $2.9 million on lobbying in 2009 — to make sure that privacy is not a priority in the Obama administration. It also works with several industry-supported interest groups: the Interactive Advertising Bureau, the Technology Policy Institute, and the Progress & Freedom Foundation, whose mission statement espouses “an appreciation for the positive impacts of technology with a classically conservative view of the proper role of government... Those opportunities can only be realized if governments resist the temptation to regulate, tax and control.” All these groups are funded by Google, along with a who’s-who of communications behemoths. Their mission: subvert any congressional legislation extending Fourth Amendment-style prohibitions to the data-mining private sector. Their argument, per the Technology Policy Institute: “More privacy ... would mean less information, less valuable advertising, and thus fewer resources available for producing new low-priced services” — in other words, privacy is a threat to the economy. 


...Senate Bill 773, grant[s] the executive branch authority to disconnect and assume some measure of control over private networks in a declared “cybersecurity emergency.”

That could be a quarantine operation to isolate and defeat a viral attack. It could also be an excuse for censorship of certain sites — or, for the cybersecurity agencies to data-mine where they have been hitherto forbidden. Google could be declared “critical infrastructure” in such an emergency, and its management temporarily assumed by federally certified “cybersecurity professionals,” as defined in S.773. It’s not wholly unfeasible that Google’s massive and much coveted behavioral profiles could then be fed into the NSA’s computers. And even without S.773, a long accumulation of executive orders over three decades has likely laid the groundwork for executive authority to take over critical communications networks in a “national emergency.”
But long before such an emergency comes to pass, if ever, the government and the regiments of data-mining companies it contracts with are seeing eye to eye. The commercial surveillance complex and the security surveillance complex have many common interests and methods: the ad gurus’ neuromarketing research complemented by the intel agencies’ longstanding research into mind control, from the CIA’s MK-ULTRA to the NSA’s current “cognitive neuroscience research”; the profiling of political behavior for campaign advertising complemented by the DHS’s elastic definitions of dissidents and “potential terrorists.”

Google is now anonymizing IP addresses from search logs after nine months, down from its previous eighteen-month retention policy.... This is in contrast to Microsoft, which after six months throws out the search query data altogether. “Remember that totally anonymized search queries can be linked together to build an identity,” says Bankston. “Why does Google need to store our data perpetually? They’re very vague about it.”

Indeed, Google could, without violating the law, reveal a lot more about how it cooperates with the intelligence agencies — how many requests for information it receives, from what government entities, how many it complies with. “They could talk about all this, but they don’t,” says Bankston. “Google may not care a lot about your privacy, but they care a whole helluva lot about your perception of your privacy. To remind people of the risk of government access to your data is anathema.”

Christopher Ketcham has written for Vanity Fair, Harper’s, The Nation, Mother Jones, and many other publications. Travis Kelly is a writer, cartoonist, and web designer in Moab, UT.

Google, don't do this to me.  Rated below FACEBOOK!!! How  could you?
...*sobbing* ... I loved you...  Please prove to me you aren't evil – please –

Be seeing you. Maybe somewhere else –

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  1. Excellent article. However, if oyu note, Goolge is only of three to transmit email/docs over SSL. Hotmail/Yahoo only offer login over SSL.

    Your article forgot to mention why Chinese govt hacked into Google. They are interested why google allows SSL emailing (might not be true in China).

    Ten years ago CIA invested in HTTPS Proxy company (Safeweb?) with amount approaching $50M.