Google says: if it’s private, it’s probably illicit or illegal

If you install proprietary software on your computer, you’re putting your privacy at risk. This is but one of several reasons not to. It’s possible however, to run a completely Free system yet forfeit the protection Free software offers. All one needs to do is use “cloud” computing. Essentially, this means crunching your data while it resides on another’s server. In the case of Google (and others), this appears to be an inevitable trend in the coming years.

The idea of having one’s data in another’s hands is nothing new…mainstream Internet users have been doing so with email clients like Hotmail and Yahoo for years. It’s the ubiquity that’s alarming. We’re not talking only of email. We’re talking everything. At least that’s the early idea behind something like Google’s Chromium OS.

It’s alarming (though not surprising) then, to hear Google CEO Eric Schmidt claim that:

If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.

This makes clear that Google’s obligation won’t be to take a stand for free speech or privacy rights. It doesn’t take much imagination to think of just uses of cloud storage that certain governments through corrupt law will deem harmful to society and demand the “perpetrators” be outed. Google being a corporation, doesn’t care at all about anyone’s rights or spreading the freedom that comes with Free software (despite many individuals within the organization that may). Google’s top priorities will be to serve local laws (not out of respect for law, but to do business) and their bottom line. Schmidt’s quote is a stark reminder that while systems like Chrome OS help steer us successfully away from the chains of proprietary software, it’s still important for society to have viable, Free, local computing environment options for the sake of privacy rights.

If we do this…if we enable this environment and promote systems like Chrome in tandem, then perhaps we will be working toward something of benefit to computer users around the world.

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4 Responses to “Google says: if it’s private, it’s probably illicit or illegal”

  1. Doug Johnson Says:

    This is from GoogleApps for Education Terms of Service:

    6.1 Obligations. Each party will: (a) protect the other party’s Confidential Information with the same standard of care it uses to protect its own Confidential Information; and (b) not disclose the Confidential Information, except to affiliates, employees and agents who need to know it and who have agreed in writing to keep it confidential. Each party (and any affiliates, employees and agents to whom it has disclosed Confidential Information) may use Confidential Information only to exercise rights and fulfill obligations under this Agreement, while using reasonable care to protect it. Each party is responsible for any actions of its affiliates, employees and agents in violation of this Section.

    Why do you think Google is any more or less trustworthy than other email hosting sites?

    Were I doing something I didn’t want others to know about, I sure wouldn’t put it online regardless of the flavor of software – free or commercial – used to send it about.

    All the best,

    Doug

  2. Peter Says:

    Hi Doug, thanks for dropping in.

    Why do you think Google is any more or less trustworthy than other email hosting sites?

    Like any of the large scale email service providers, I don’t think the level of trustworthiness is any different. But as a general rule, the larger the provider is, the less likely they are to stand up for human rights – this is often the nature of the corporation. As I mentioned, Eric Schmidt’s quote is a reminder of this. However, this is secondary to what computer users need to understand. The more important discussion is tied to something else you mentioned…

    Were I doing something I didn’t want others to know about, I sure wouldn’t put it online regardless of the flavor of software – free or commercial – used to send it about.

    First, there is a misunderstanding regarding “Free”. Here I’m referring to software that provides users with freedom (see the links in the post). Free software can be either non-commercial or commercial but that is irrelevant with regard to privacy issues. In this case, it is the freedom to audit (and have the public audit) the functionality of the software.

    I agree that if you need absolute personal privacy, it would be foolish to put that data online. But what if you wanted to send that data to some but keep it private from others? Privacy often has scope.

  3. Doug Johnson Says:

    Hi Peter,

    Good points. I think much of this revolves around risk assessment and risk management. There is nothing 100% about any of these services and each of us has a personal level of comfort with risk.

    And I am afraid I agree that the bigger the company, the less concern about human rights. But I’ve also seen plenty of mom and pop operations that were pretty lacking in understand as well (and worked for them!)

    All the best,

    Doug

  4. Anon Says:

    Hi Peter,

    Given the context we now have of Google in China, what you wrote in December seems prescient: “…This makes clear that Google’s obligation won’t be to take a stand for free speech or privacy rights….. Google’s top priorities will be to serve local laws (not out of respect for law, but to do business)”

    I can further confirm to you out of personal experience how Google’s top priorities have been to serve the flimsiest local “law” in one place in Asia, to the detriment of civil rights, freedoms and privacy of individuals residing elsewhere, as well as to the detriment of transparency and governance which are expected of corporations and non-profits. So much to the connectedness of the internet having side effects on people’s lives! Server based computing is perhaps a necessary evil. But a cloud would be disastrous if the masters of the cloud behave thus. I would go further and say that a cloud should have no masters.

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