Within Google, knowledge about Dragonfly has been restricted to just a few hundred members of the internet giant’s 88,000-strong workforce, said a source with knowledge of the project. The source spoke to The Intercept on condition of anonymity, as they were not authorized to contact the media. The source said that they had moral and ethical concerns about Google’s role in the censorship, which is being planned by a handful of top executives and managers at the company with no public scrutiny.
“I’m against large companies and governments collaborating in the oppression of their people, and feel like transparency around what’s being done is in the public interest,” the source said, adding that they feared “what is done in China will become a template for many other nations.”
From The Intercept article: Google Plans to Launch Censored Search Engine in China, Leaked Documents Reveal
Today’s post will explain why I think the U.S. tech giants are in the early stages of destroying themselves. It will focus on two of the biggest names in the space, Facebook and Google. Both face serious issues that are only now truly coming to a head and rooted in two primary factors, size and politics.
Facebook is further along in the process of being in serious trouble, so let’s start there. The social media company currently has 2.2 billion active users worldwide, which amounts to well over half of all human beings online at the moment (estimated at 3-4 billion). In other words, the company already has a tremendous share of global potential users. Since everybody already knows what Facebook is, you have to assume those who aren’t using it (like me), aren’t using it for a reason. Thus, you have to ask whether or not meaningful growth in active users is remotely realistic for Facebook. I would argue not.
There are many reasons to bet against Facebook significantly growing active users in the years ahead, but the main hurdle seems to be keeping the users it already has actively engaged. Specifically, I think there are two types of users Facebook risks losing going forward. These people might not “delete Facebook” per se, but their engagement with the platform may drop meaningfully.
The first consists of the not insignificant number of Americans who in part blame Facebook and “fake news” for the election of Donald Trump. These types are placing enormous amounts of pressure on politicians to “do something” and you can see Facebook executives starting to squirm. Facebook doesn’t know what to do and risks responding to this political outrage in a manner that could irreparably harm the platform’s appeal.
For example, Facebook executives have recently shown signs of an increased eagerness to grovel to politicians still cranky about Hillary’s loss. Here’s an example from yesterday’s New York Timesarticle, Facebook Has Identified Ongoing Political Influence Campaign:
WASHINGTON — Facebook announced on Tuesday that it has identified a coordinated political influence campaign, with dozens of inauthentic accounts and pages that are believed to be engaging in political activity around divisive social issues ahead of November’s midterm elections.
In a series of briefings on Capitol Hill this week and a public post on Tuesday, the company told lawmakers that it had detected and removed 32 pages and accounts connected to the influence campaign on Facebook and Instagram as part of its investigations into election interference. It publicly said it had been unable to tie the accounts to Russia, whose Internet Research Agency was at the center of an indictment earlier this year for interfering in the 2016 election, but company officials told Capitol Hill that Russia was possibly involved, according to two officials briefed on the matter.
Facebook has been under intense pressure to validate the theory that Russia and fake news led to Hillary’s loss, especially from Senator Mark Warner of Virginia. Executives feel a need to comply, so they rolled out the ridiculousness above. Facebook has 2.2 billion active users and the company is making a big deal about 32 pages and accounts, which it admittedly can’t even tie to Russia (believe me they’re trying). Naturally, this didn’t stop Warner from explicitly linking them to Russia:
Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee who has exerted intense pressure on the social media companies, praised Facebook on Tuesday for bringing the activity into the public but asked for its cooperation in updating laws to prevent influence campaigns.
“Today’s disclosure is further evidence that the Kremlin continues to exploit platforms like Facebook to sow division and spread disinformation,” he said. “And I am glad that Facebook is taking some steps to pinpoint and address this activity.”
See how this game works? This is pure political theater and Facebook is now an eager participant.
The moment a social media platform takes sides it’s no longer a platform and quickly loses its raison d’être. Facebook is making this mistake and Twitter seems to be moving the same way. This particular era of social media is ending, new platforms are needed.
— Michael Krieger (@LibertyBlitz) July 31, 2018
This is what happens when you become too big, too powerful and then politicians take notice. Facebook’s best days are behind it.
Let’s now turn to Google. If what The Intercept is reporting today is true, Google’s become so desperate for growth and new revenue streams, it’s decided to become an active and willing participant in keeping over 1 billion Chinese ignorant and oppressed in the pursuit of some extra cash.
Google is planning to launch a censored version of its search engine in China that will blacklist websites and search terms about human rights, democracy, religion, and peaceful protest, The Intercept can reveal.
The project – code-named Dragonfly – has been underway since spring of last year, and accelerated following a December 2017 meeting between Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai and a top Chinese government official, according to internal Google documents and people familiar with the plans…
Google’s search service cannot currently be accessed by most internet users in China because it is blocked by the country’s so-called Great Firewall. The app Google is building for China will comply with the country’s strict censorship laws, restricting access to content that Xi Jinping’s Communist Party regime deems unfavorable…
Examples cited in the documents of websites that will be subject to the censorship include those of British news broadcaster BBC and the online encyclopedia Wikipedia.
The search app will also “blacklist sensitive queries” so that “no results will be shown” at all when people enter certain words or phrases, the documents state. The censorship will apply across the platform: Google’s image search, automatic spell check and suggested search features will incorporate the blacklists, meaning that they will not recommend people information or photographs the government has banned.
Google executives realize how completely and utterly evil this is, which is why they’re apparently actively hiding the initative from their own employees. Not a good look.
Within Google, knowledge about Dragonfly has been restricted to just a few hundred members of the internet giant’s 88,000-strong workforce, said a source with knowledge of the project. The source spoke to The Intercept on condition of anonymity, as they were not authorized to contact the media. The source said that they had moral and ethical concerns about Google’s role in the censorship, which is being planned by a handful of top executives and managers at the company with no public scrutiny
There’s a reason Google executives want to keep this on the down low. Recall the company experienced widespread internal protest and even some resignations related to its drone partnership with the U.S. military, Project Maven (see: Preach Less, Live Your Values More).
The China initiative seems even more problematic from a political perspective. It’s one thing to help the U.S. government, it’s another to actively help the primary strategic rival of U.S. imperial dominance maintain its authoritarian government in the name of profit, which is exactly what Google would be doing. This brings me to my next point.
While it’s currently all the rage to yell Russia, Russia, Russia because Hillary lost, the actual geopolitical rival to U.S. imperial dominance on the world stage is unquestionably China. In other words, if Google’s own employees don’t come after it for this despicable move, U.S. politicians will.
This is the sort of thing that happens when you get too big, too powerful and too desperate for growth at all costs.
Google in 3 acts:
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