With data breaches and cyber attacks littering the news, Google’s mission, “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful,” is proving increasingly dangerous. By purposely storing all of the world’s information in one place, putting everyone’s eggs in one basket, Google exposes Internet users, content producers and even governments to huge and unnecessary risks. The utopian vision behind Google’s mission — that all information (including private property) should be centralized in the hands of one unaccountable entity — can only lead to a series of disasters and ultimately tyranny.
Google has repeatedly demonstrated that hoarding information on a network built for scale and speed — not security — is irresponsible. When Chinese hackers broke into Google’s network in late 2009, they gained access to users’ passwords. More recently, Chinese hackers compromised the Gmail accounts of top U.S. officials.
A major problem with Google’s mission is that it envisions one entity controlling access to all of the world’s information. By one estimate, between the birth of the world and 2003 there were five exabytes of data created. Google now records five exabytes of data every two days: Not just public information but personal data for one billion users, privately owned content and even national security secrets. For example, to fulfill its boundless mission, Google decided to index Julian Assange’s stolen, secret and private cables in its search engine and made them universally accessible and useful to our nation’s enemies.
Google justifies continuous online surveillance by arguing that privacy corrupts. As Google Chairman Eric Schmidt explained, “If you have something you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.” But not to worry, Google can help you be more transparent. Google offers dozens of free products designed to track everything you do and ensure that Google can always identify you. However, it’s strictly a one-way street: Google admonishes everyone else to be transparent while zealously guarding its search algorithm, advertising auction and network infrastructure secrets.
Another problem with Google’s mission is that it tramples on property rights. Digital technology makes it easy to copy and redistribute information — including content that belongs to others. In blatant disregard of copyright law, Google appointed itself to digitize and make searchable all of the world’s books. And as court documents revealed, Google bought YouTube knowing that the company was facilitating the redistribution of copyrighted videos without permission. There is even evidence of Google aiding and abetting online piracy. Reportedly, Google supplied sites trafficking in pirated movies search advertising keywords such as “bootleg movie download.”
Contrary to what Google wants you to believe, it’s good that the world’s information is distributed across diverse and competitive repositories; that not all information is universally accessible; and that a great deal of information remains in private hands. A society in which one entity controls access to information is a totalitarian society.
In fact, there are striking parallels between Google’s information vision and the goals of a centrally planned economy. The Soviet Union’s founders believed that if they organized the means of production, they could produce more quality goods and services and ensure more equitable distribution. In his classic work The Road to Serfdom, Friedrich Hayek showed why they were wrong — that central planning by experts does not create prosperity and inevitably leads to tyranny. Centralized control inhibits individual initiative. And the only way to ensure equal access is to deny producers the freedom to allocate the resources they created as they think best.
Google is the leader of a new generation of techtopian radicals who believe central planning failed not because it was a bad idea, but because the technology needed to make it work had not yet been perfected. With today’s computers and the Internet, central planners can now collect and store far more data, and they can instantly transmit commands to any location. What failed miserably in physical space, they fantasize, will ultimately triumph in cyberspace.
The irony is that the Internet itself succeeded as a self-organized rather than a centrally managed network. It is a shining example of how distributing control among many competing users creates a more flexible and responsive solution.
Google believes that its elite engineers should organize the world’s information and supervise access. If Hayek were alive today, he would recognize this approach for what it is: the digital road to serfdom.
Ira Brodsky is co-author with Scott Cleland of the new book Search & Destroy: Why You Can’t Trust Google Inc. Visit www.SearchAndDestroyBook.com.