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The Net’s Good Old Boys: Dr. (Don’t Be) Evil Meets Dr. Strangelove

Dr. Eric Schmidt has called for intelligence agencies to stop illegally prying into personal information and has been doing his best to convince the government to pay Google to do it legally instead. That said, in 2009 he was widely rebuked for telling CNBC:

If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place, but if you really need that kind of privacy, the reality is that search engines including Google do retain this information for some time, and it’s important, for example that we are all subject in the United States to the Patriot Act. It is possible that that information could be made available to the authorities. ~ Dr. Eric Schmidt, Google CEO, 2009

Schmidt didn’t add that Google is obliged to turn over email content under court order and not tell users it did so. He didn’t have to. We all know about FISA and PATRIOT. Same goes for Hotmail, AOL, or any US email provider, only Google has much more to give.

When Schmidt described Google searches as being up for grabs, he left out Gmail, Google Maps, Google Store or Google Play. Neither did he mention that you can enhance your privacy by encrypting your email and search Google anonymously via VPN servers and proxy search engines like StartPage and DuckDuckGo. He doesn’t want you to do that. It’s bad for your personality profile, and you’re likely up to no good if you do. But you are free to open “incognito” (private) windows on your browser that don’t record your search history. Google’s Your Data page says:

Your web history can help make your search results more useful, but there are times you may want to browse in private. If you share a computer with your sweetheart, for instance, you probably don’t want your browsing history to ruin the surprise birthday gift you are searching for. For moments like this, open an incognito window on your computer or mobile device to prevent Google Chrome from saving your browsing history.

Your sweetie may never know what you were up to but Google will, should you visit its pages or sites that subscribe to its ad networks. Private windows aren’t anonymous. Your presence will be detected and your behavior quantified. Your search history is only incognito to the people who use the same computer.

Apparently Schmidt didn’t know that when he misrepresented how private browsing actually works. In an interview at the libertarian Cato Institute reported by the Daily Dot, he opined, “If you’re concerned, for whatever reason, you do not wish to be tracked by federal and state authorities, my strong recommendation is to use incognito mode, and that’s what people do.” Right. And all you need to do to stop the FBI from monitoring your US mail is to send letters rather than postcards.

* * *

In mid-December, Schmidt unexpectedly stepped down as Board Chairman of parent company Alphabet saying he wanted to spend more time with his philanthropy (apparently not family; read on). He’ll still serve on the board and will advise Google X on AI innovations for defense, which have yet to pay off for them.

His resignation will also give him more time for his mistresses. According to the New York Post and Gawker, he’s a documented serial womanizer who keeps a soundproofed pied-à-terre in lower Manhattan for his trysts. (He and wife Wendy of 37 years are separated.) To his credit, no woman has accused him of sexual harassment.

But he does stand accused of being a key enabler of imperialist policies around the globe, not that he’s ashamed of his role. He’s so happy with it that he wants everyone at Google to know that he and the prototype for Dr. Strangelove are BFF. Introducing Henry the K to a house audience, Schmidt gushed:

This is the man who in many ways made globalization happen in the world. This is the man who settled the war that would have killed me. This is the man who drove American foreign policy not just in one presidency but I would say four decades.

And this is a Nobel Peace Lauriat wanted as a war criminal in several countries, a man who pimps for power regardless of party, not unlike Schmidt, who splits his campaign contributions down the middle.

Julian Assange, the housebound founder of WikiLeaks, got to know Schmidt when Schmidt and three US foreign policy honchos interviewed him in 2014, ostensibly for a book Schmidt was writing. In an incisive account published on WikiLeaks, Assange gives his measure of the man (find the quote here):[1]

Schmidt fits exactly where he is: the point where the centrist, liberal, and imperialist tendencies meet in American political life. By all appearances, Google’s bosses genuinely believe in the civilizing power of enlightened multinational corporations, and they see this mission as continuous with the shaping of the world according to the better judgment of the “benevolent superpower.” They will tell you that open-mindedness is a virtue, but all perspectives that challenge the exceptionalist drive at the heart of American foreign policy will remain invisible to them. This is the impenetrable banality of “don’t be evil.” They believe that they are doing good. And that is a problem.

Assange goes on to say:

Schmidt’s tenure as CEO saw Google integrate with the shadiest of US power structures as it expanded into a geographically invasive megacorporation. But Google has always been comfortable with this proximity. Long before company founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin hired Schmidt in 2001, their initial research upon which Google was based had been partly funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).48 And even as Schmidt’s Google developed an image as the overly friendly giant of global tech, it was building a close relationship with the intelligence community.

Should you doubt that Schmidt is a neoliberal imperialist or that Google is up there in the Military Industrial National Security Complex, consider this statement from his 2013 book with ex-State Department fixer, now head of Google Ideas, Jared Cohen (the one he interviewed Assange for), The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business (masterfully reviewed by Assange in an NYT op-ed):

What Lockheed Martin was to the twentieth century, technology and cyber-security companies will be to the twenty-first.67

Of course, that doesn’t imply that there will be no need for ships, aircraft, smart bombs, or robot storm troopers, which Google will no doubt be happy to facilitate. Meanwhile, it continues its friendly crusade to save the world—in its servers, one data point at a time.

For Further Reading

Essential Texts

Julian Assange, Google Is Not What It Seems, WikiLeaks, October 2016

Nafeez Ahmed, How the CIA made Google, Insurge Intelligence, January 2015

Julian Assange, The Banality of Evil, New York Times, June 1 2013

Tangential Discussions

Kenneth P. Vogel, Google Critic Ousted From Think Tank Funded by the Tech Giant, New York Times, August 30, 2017

Jeff John Roberts, Judge Rejects Google Deal Over Email Scanning, Fortune, March 2016

Ellinor Mills, Google balances privacy, reach, CNET, August 2005

Personal Backstories

Geoff Dutton, The Net’s Good Old Boys: Hacking the Arpanet, CounterPunch, January 4 2018

Geoff Dutton, The Net’s Good Old Boys: If Only We Knew Then, CounterPunch, January 5 2018

Geoff Dutton, Harvard, the CIA, and All That, CounterPunch, October 13 2018

Notes.

[1] Assange points to Schmidt’s involvement in the New America Foundation, a DC think tank that connects a web of neoliberal elites (Schmidt had been Board Chairman and Google heavily funds it). Read what happened when one of its analysts published a paper praising the EU for levying a $2.7B fine on Google for disregarding EU privacy laws.

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Geoff Dutton is an ex-geek turned writer and editor. He hails from Boston and writes about whatever distortions of reality strike his fancy. Currently, he’s pedaling a novel chronicling the lives and times of members of a cell of terrorists in Europe, completing a collection of essays on high technology delusions, and can be found barking at Progressive Pilgrim Review.

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