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Category Archives: reflexions

So, the whole Wikileaks thing, eh. What should you think about it? Read on to find out.

What’s it all about anyway?

Maybe you didn’t follow, so let’s recap. Wikileaks is a website that publishes well, leaked information. Mostly governmental documents, diplomatic cables and the like, but lots of other stuff too.

Now, the interesting part which deserves a reaction is that recently, various governments have strongly criticized Wikileaks, and called it a security threat, calling for it’s censorship and for it to be basically closed down.

Not only is that preposterous, but quite dangerous and wrong. The rest of this post will show why.

The appropriate reaction

Let’s assume for a minute that Wikileaks’ revelations are reprehensible. What is the appropriate reaction towards reprehensible contents? The answer for this is known for decades, and yet people – and especially governments – keep advocating the wrong response.

Basically, the choice is between a censorship system, or a responsibility system. Annoyingly, it seems many people are confused as to what both systems mean.

Censorship

Censorship means blocking speech a priori, i.e., it is blocked before it is even publicly uttered. There are two ways this is usually implemented. Either someone (usually a government agency) reviews all speech to be published and either accepts or refuses it’s publication, or somebody is purely and simply silenced.

If you support either censorship system you are basically saying that you do not believe in freedom of speech, since you consider people are only entitled to publicize approved speech. This is very much a totalitarian system.

Worryingly, this is what people explicitly or implicitly advocate in the Wikileaks case.

Responsibility

A responsibility based system is a posteriori. It’s quite simple really. If publicly expressed speech is harmful, the publisher is responsible. As always, reparation can be made both in nature (removal of the harmful content), and by equivalent (paying money to whoever was harmed).

The key element is that no assumption is made on who is speaking. Only specific contents are punished. If both harmful and unharmful contents are uttered by a specific person or organisation, only the harmful ones are punished.

Why responsibility is better

It should be obvious, but as so often, I’d rather make sure the obvious is stated:

– The first censorship implementation system requires an impartial party to review all contents. Who can be entrusted with this mission, bearing in mind nobody will be able to review his actions since the contents won’t be published? In all known such systems, the review was highly opinion-based, politically motivated. And it cannot be otherwise.

– Responsibility only punishes actual harm, whereas the second implementation method of censorship (currently advocated by many in the Wikileaks case) blocks both harmful and unharmful contents. This means that such censorship actually punishes you for crimes you haven’t yet committed.

– Responsibility requires an actual damage being proven (including for instance violation of a law). This allows for a factual review, in front of a court of law, allowing for proper defence by the person uttering the speech. This is not possible in a censorship system, where you’re just blocked and have nothing to say about it.

Debunking some lame arguments

I have hopefully shown that whatever you think of Wikileaks, if action should be taken against it, it should be responsibility based. Now I will debunk a series of criticisms targeted against Wikileaks.

It’s illegal!

Well, I would not be surprised quite a few of Wikileaks’ documents (and their publishing) infringe on certain laws. However, if that is so, how come Wikileaks hasn’t been brought to court? Australian Police recently concluded there was no evidence of unlawfulness. So maybe they haven’t done anything legally wrong. If so, seeking any form of punishment is, well, illegal and totalitarian.

Wikileaks endangers people

I fail to fully understand this one. Wikileaks doesn’t reveal plans that haven’t yet been executed upon. Revealing stuff after the fact doesn’t endanger anyone [UPDATE: by stuff, I mean anything else than people’s names]. Furthermore, when they did mess up the anonymization of certain documents (which is the only case where after the fact damage can be made), they swiftly suggested partnerships with their critics to improve the anonymization process. Tellingly, the critics did next to nothing. Makes me think this argument is a straw man.

Furthermore, as far as privacy violations go, regular newspapers do much worse. They routinely disclose names of criminal suspect investigations, often ruining lives in the process. Singling out Wikileaks for this is hypocritical at best.

Why not disclose all personal emails?

This one is quite funny. If you’re so keen on having all these secret governmental papers disclosed, the argument goes, how would you like it if all your emails were publicly disclosed?

Of course, this is a ludicrous argument that completely misses the point. Natural persons have a (very important) right to privacy, which would be violated by the disclosure of their personal communications. Governments and their agencies, on the other hand, don’t. What’s more, Governments should be accountable to the people for their actions. Knowing what they do is necessary for this, and disclosure of their communications aids this goal.

I’ll dig into this further, but for now, let’s just remember that it’s ridiculous to compare Governments and natural persons in this context.

Wikileaks hasn’t released anything important

This one is funny too. It says that Wikileaks is useless because it hasn’t revealed anything important or interesting. If so, then why make a fuss about it and not just let it be?

Unless the point being made is that only useful and ground breaking information deserves to be published. If that’s the reasoning, then most of what is being published, whether on the web or in paper, should be banned, because most of what’s out there is useless drivel.

Not everyone can handle the information

This is one of the more interesting, and also more worrying, arguments made.

It actually contains two parts:

1) There is too much information, nobody can process that much information.

2) The information is too complex, very few people can make anything out of it.

Where can I even start with this?

First off, nobody ever said everyone in the whole wide world should master knowledge about all subjects equally. Well, I’m pretty sure some crackpot socialist might have said that once, but let’s get real.

Nobody can process the quantity of information being published in all the newspapers of a small country like Belgium either. Should they all be banned too? And maybe replaced by only one manageable newspaper which we could call The Truth? Oh wait, that’s been done already… Seriously, people!

And then the argument that not everybody can understand the information or put it in context. So what? I’m fairly certain that most people coming across my post here aren’t able to properly understand the latest journals in particle physics either. Should they be banned too?

Let me break the news: we live in a complex world. Nobody can fully understand it today. But that’s ok. Because different people have different areas of expertise and master various different areas of knowledge.

After all, the complexity of the information being leaked isn’t any greater than what becomes available to the general public in governmental archives after 30 years. And guess what: the information in those archives is meaningfully processed by experts. We call them historians, political scientists, and sometimes journalists. Why couldn’t they process more recent information which is the same in nature?

The importance of what these people do will be re-stated later.

Secrets are necessary

Another perplexing one as far as I’m concerned. I hear claims that governments need to protect secrets.

I’m very sorry, but which governmental secrets deserve to be protected?

The usual suspect is diplomacy. “Oh my, but diplomacy wouldn’t work without secrecy”, is an oft made claim. Well, would it really be such a bad thing if diplomacy didn’t work? I mean, if we’re saying that Governments should be able to publicly say one thing and secretly do another, very sorry, but no. That removes all accountability and basically means citizens are deceived. Which is unacceptable.

Now, if the purpose is to say that negotiations sometimes need to carry some secrecy to be effective, sure. But then who’s to be blamed if the these secrets are revealed? The whistle-blower, or the negligent party who allowed the secret to be revealed?

And, to be honest, I even have some defiance about these secret negotiations. A few examples will come later as to why.

Another area where secrecy is claimed to be useful is the military. First, it should be noted that Wikileaks has only, to the best of my knowledge, revealed things after the fact, i.e., has not revealed any military plans while they were current.

Furthermore, you should here again be much more worried about the fact that a relatively limited organisation such as Wikileaks could gain access to military information. It means the people who could benefit from that knowledge sure as hell could gain access to it too.

Apart from those ones, I haven’t yet heard of any even remotely convincing example of governmental secret that deserves to be kept.

Why Wikileaks style free speech matters

I’ve hopefully shown that arguments against Wikileaks are weak at best, and that if Wikileaks does commit something bad, it should be acted upon based on responsibility and not censorship.

But now it’s time to see why Wikileaks is something extremely healthy indeed.

See, if democracy is to even remotely work, you have to be certain that checks and balances are correctly in place. This basically means that no single government or governmental agency can act without being controlled and kept in check by counter-powers.

One of the most important of these counter-powers is traditionally, but incorrectly, known as the press.

Naming this the press is historically understandable, but inaccurate. The actual counter-power is the free flow of information within the governed society. The press has historically been the main vector of this flow, but is by no means the only one, especially in this day and age.

Basically, this counter-power is based on the fact citizens can have access to information that enables them to better judge and evaluate their Government, and, ultimately, control it. Which is kind of the point in the first place.

As we have seen, some are so rash as to say that Wikileaks is too complex for citizens. But that’s where historians, political scientists and journalists come in handy. They can use Wikileaks as a source to better inform citizens, via analysis and vulgarization.

Whether Wikileaks has yet completely fulfilled this role is irrelevant. It has the potential to do so. And the hidden agenda of those opposing it is to silence counter-powers. Which is downright terrifying.

Because contrary to what some naysayers try to make believe, this kind of counter-power is useful. At the end of the day, this is the kind of thing that allowed to know about (very non-exhaustive list) in no particular order:

Watergate

The Iran Contra affair

The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact (Those defending the secrecy of diplomatic negotiations don’t look so good now, do they?)

The Iraq prison abuse scandals

– Miterrand’s involvement in the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior

Gulags

Etc. These things were revealed by investigative journalism. Which has nearly gone the way of the dodo. It’s good that Wikileaks is picking up the mantle.

So it’s really up to you to decide. Do you want to be on the side of those who would rather this kind of thing remained secret “for the greater good of the State”?

I don’t.

Conclusion

All in all, the whole story is quite easy.

Arguments against Wikileaks are mostly bogus. Wikileaks is one example of those phenomena that make the difference between (relative…) freedom and totalitarianism. So it should be supported on principle, all the more so because there is no evidence it has caused any harm other than ruffling Governments’ feathers.

Were it to err, the adequate solution would be the time tested solution of responsibility. Not censorship.

You’re free to disagree. Totalitarians do. But unlike me, they’ll deny you the freedom to disagree with them.

My last post about Apple was quite withering. Furthermore, I often poke jabs at Apple. It thus surprised a lot of people when I announced my next computer would probably be a MacBook Pro. Does this mean I’m inconsistent or changed my mind? Hardly.

What I dislike about Apple

Just to clarify a bit what I meant in my last post, what I dislike about Apple is not their products. Their products have immense qualities. They also have their flaws, as I pointed out. What I dislike with a passion is blind fanboyism, the fact people blindly assume everything Apple does is just perfect. It’s not. I also dislike Steve Jobs. And I certainly disagree with the constant Microsoft bashing that Apple fanboys enjoy so much, because I believe Microsoft to have delivered outstanding products, and to have actually raised their quality levels in recent years.

My last post aimed at demonstrating that Apple is far from flawless, and that some humility on the side of Apple lovers would be welcome. But Apple has some very appealing products indeed. Here’s why.

Bringing sexiness to IT

If there’s one single fact nobody in their right mind could disagree on regarding Apple is that is that they have mastered the art of making a computer look good. They were the first ones to aim at that, and nobody comes close to their current results – even though PCs have become much less ugly as a consequence.

Seriously, how gorgeous is the current iMac line?

Picture of the very sexy iMac

Remember, this is the full computer, no ugly grey box attached under or upon your desk. Furthermore, the quality of the screen is astounding. Interestingly, by the way, the entry-level iMac is a good bang for your buck, even compared to a similar PC set-up.

The same beauty exudes the laptop line, Macbooks.

But it’s not only the devices that look nice. The operating system, Mac OS X, is also built towards pretty in lots of ways, from useless but pleasing eye-candy such as the animations that go with minimizing a window, to pretty ways of fulfilling a function such as the pleasing animation that highlights the dock icon currently active.

 

Samples of how Mac OS X does “pretty”

 

The drawback of this is that sometimes beauty has trumped functionality. This is most infamously the case with Apple mice, which look good, but are consistently less comfortable to use from an ergonomics point of view than other companies’ mice.

Quite touchy

I don’t care much for the iPad and other “non-computer computing devices”, but even in the realm of pure computers, Apple absolutely leads the pack in the area of touch input. Case in point: the wonderful touchpads sported by Macbooks, and the very natural implementation of multi-touch that Apple has brought to them. No other touchpad in the industry even comes close to being as comfortable and useful as Apple’s. So much so that the Magic trackpad Apple has started to sell for desktops actually starts making sense to me. And I’m a guy who never uses the touchpad on my PC laptops.

Niftiness as an art form

For the various reasons I explained in my previous post, I don’t buy the “attention to detail” argument. Apple can screw up on details and even big things, just like any one else in the industry. However, it’s true they consistently come up with nifty little features the likes of which are seldom seen in other products. I’m not going to list all of them, but just give a few examples.

On their Macbook pro line, they have this very nice little way of seeing how charged the laptop is, even when it’s turned off. Just push a little button, and LEDs light up to tell you how much battery you have left. Very nice for checking whether you need to take a power chord with you or not.

The battery charge indicator on a Macbook pro

Another nifty feature, on OS level this time, is installation and removal of programs. Installing a program is as easy as copying one file in your application folder. Removing it is as easy as dragging it to the trashcan. Easy, comfortable.

Active screen corners is also a very nice idea. Basically slam your mouse into a corner of the screen, and depending on how you configured it, an action will automatically be carried out, such as showing your desktop, showing your widgets, putting your computer to sleep, etc. It doesn’t get much easier than that.

At application level, iTunes does a nice bit of nifty too. Select a song, and click on genius playlist, and iTunes will build a playlist of similar tunes. Very nice.

The list goes on really. Lots of nifty little features which, taken separately, aren’t game-changers, but as a whole make for a very pleasant experience.

Apple ’nixed it

One of the best ideas Apple ever had for Mac OS X was to give it Unix roots. Mac OS X is basically a Unix since it’s POSIX compliant. Lots of good things entail. It gives the OS the kind of stability you can expect from a Unix system, and the relatively strong security credentials that go with it. Contrary to popular belief, there can be viruses and malware for Mac OS X, but between the inherent security of a Unix system and the relatively limited user base, chances are quite slim you’ll encounter any.

It also means that if you are the geeky type, you can mess around in the same way you would with a Unix, with a command line interface and everything. 

SMB friendliness

Apple products can still remain a headache for large enterprises, when compatibility with enterprise software can be an issue. But for SMBs, Apple products can be a very smart choice.

SMBs have fairly limited software needs. And what needs they have are very well addressed. Regarding productivity software, iWork is actually a very good suite. While less powerful than MS Office, it allows non specialists to make very professional looking documents with outstanding looks very easily, with less effort than MS Office. This allows an SMB to create great looking commercial presentations, mailings, invoices, proposals etc. without needing the help of an external designer. And this comes at a fraction of the price of MS Office (roughly 80€). It’s compatible with MS Office, but as so often, if you use either’s advanced capabilities, you might come across some formatting issues.

iWork Numbers templates

No sweat, MS Office is available on Mac too, and marginally cheaper than on PC.

Even in the area of more specialized software, there are some great products available. Merlin is a great project management product, that is arguably superior to MS Project (as often with Apple oriented products, it might lose out a bit on advanced functionality, but over-compensates with ease of use and stunning looks).

Of course, depending on your business, you will need to check that what you need is available on the platform.

In a nutshell

Perfection is not of this world, and Apple is no exception. Apple products however have many qualities. In many cases, these can justify the premium you need to pay to purchase most Apple products, if you have the budget available. Are Apple products “better” than PC equivalents? No. But depending on your needs and tastes, they might well suit you a whole lot better.

I recently had an interesting discussion on twitter with @e_jim and @Davanlo about why Europe was a good thing. I have come to believe it isn’t, and I will expand slightly on why I believe that here .

Regulation costs

The key point to why I have come to distrust Europe is because it over-regulates. But it’s not just about the fact Europe regulates too much (although it does). It’s about the excessive cost of European regulation.

As you know, when Europe emits a regulation, it has to be transposed into local legislation. This is not a trivial exercise for the Member States, and requires full legislative efforts on their behalf.

This means you bear the cost of regulating twice: once on European level and once at country level.

Furthermore, because Member States have a degree of freedom in transposing European legislation, the whole idea of a unique legislative framework for Europe is actually negated. The same policy decisions are applicable all over Europe, but legislation does differ.

So we bear the costs of two levels of regulation instead of one.

Lack of legislative competition

The suggested solution to this is to skip the national level implementation. This would indeed solve the cost problem more or less, but a more fundamental problem would remain. The lack of legislative competition.

The idea is simple really. With legislation at lower levels, you can more easily compare the effects of different policies, see which work, and go in the right direction. In the same way competition leads to success of the best products, legislative competition leads to the success of the best policies. This is how communism and harsh protectionism finally went were they deserved to.

This occurs among others through voting and, more importantly, voters voting with their feet. It becomes much more difficult to do this if the same policies apply across a territory as large as Europe’s. And of course, having less reference points, it becomes much more difficult to spot the better policy. All the more so when all policies are half baked compromise policies as they are today.

The problem with compromise politics is that it becomes impossible to identify the part of the compromise which is responsible for the failure of the policy. So it just continues going on, and having no easy comparison point, the policy sustains itself despite lacklustre results.

More thoughts on this can be found in this post and it’s comments.

It should be added that legislative competition at higher levels (say, between the US and Europe and China) doesn’t work. Because of the massive size of the regions, and the massively different history and contexts, difference of policy performance is explained away. “This American policy wouldn’t work in Europe”, etc. And one has to admit, the argument has merit. For competition to be able to work, you do need some form of homogeneity, to make the comparison valid. The complexity of comparing the US to Europe makes the exercise nearly impossible. Belgium and France on the other hand, are manageable comparison units.

Special interests

Another issue is that centralization of power leads to the power of lobbies & special interest groups. I seem to be meeting a lobbyist every other week in Brussels these days. Of course, having a central locus of power to focus upon makes lobbies’ jobs so much easier. As such, it is my belief they gain much more traction than when powers were more local, and money runs the show in ways not conceivable before.

Again, this boils down to legislative competition. Realistically, a given lobby could hardly lobby all the local governments successfully. As such, only certain local governments would see their policies influenced by the lobby. And it would quickly become apparent how the policy is flawed.

This does not happen when lobbies can influence Brussels directly.

Just consider whether agriculture in Europe would be the same without the Common Agricultural Policy in Europe. And ask yourself if it would be a bad thing. The fine print if you lack the imagination is that France would not have the money to sustain such an ill-advised policy on it’s own, but it can thanks to the fact all of Europe pays for it.

The same applies to much less obvious domains though, areas where lobbies didn’t even exist due to organisational costs when the locus of power was more local.

Protectionism

Protectionism is an interesting topic, and one easily misunderstood. An argument in favour of the European Union is that it stops the Member States from adopting protectionist policies. While that is true, the Union as it currently exists is massive overkill to achieve that goal. Trade agreements are enough for that.

Furthermore, the largely unperceived perverse effect of the Union is that it acts as an incentive to develop protectionism of the Union against other regions of the world. Which is one of the factors spurring the extreme over-regulation of the Union. If you think consumer law is only about protecting the consumer an not blocking off foreign competition, think again. Think about the Microsoft trials. The Galileo project.

And contrary to protectionism at a lower level, the adverse effects don’t hurt the Union fast enough for the policy to be quickly identified as negative and repelled.

In a nutshell

The Union generates excessive regulation costs, stops legislative competition from taking place and allows for protectionism. Further reading on why I distrust the EU can be found here and what I suggest as alternative can be found here.

It’s much too early to start commenting on Google TV, with the little that is really known about the details. As such, it’s quite unwise to do so. Hence why I will.

The Good

There’s something great about Google TV, and that’s probably what’s garnering all the enthusiasm right now: convergence is finally coming. Come on, we’ve been talking about it for years, and this seems to be the first really exciting example of it (IP telephony is another example. Not exciting).

So basically, the idea of a web enabled TV sounds great of course. And that’s what everybody’s excited about. And rightly so might I add.

The Bad

But of course, as you know, I’m a grumpy old man, and as such, I always poop the party. In this case, several things bother me.

  • Once more, Google gets to know what you do. One more area where they know your every single move. Yay.
  • For all the coolness of “search for a video on the internet and watch it”, the reality of it is that much of what’s available out there will look just awful on a half decent TV. And websites aren’t optimized for TVs. I think there’s years ahead before the content a web enabled TV adds to a TV is quite as exciting as the content normally available on your TV. I do think there’s probably a discrepancy between US and Europe in that regard (penetration of Netflix etc.)
  • True convergence to me should go much deeper. One day your TV will basically be wirelessly connected to your PC, as an additional screen, and your PC’s OS will know the difference and translate (re-format the interface if you will) as needed. And everything will go through your PC, whether satellite TV or web. Of course, there’s many years ahead before we get that and it’s really usable, and that’s just my preferred vision of a not too close future. Might as well never happen. But I wanted to share…

 

The Ugly

Well Google getting to access another area of your life really is very ugly too, but ok, I’ve already been there and there’s something else.

Is this all Google has left? Are they running out of innovative ideas? A TV, really?

Of course it’s a cool product and whatnot (at least conceptually, in practice it remains to be seriously tested). But how obvious is it?

I see a few people who think it’s not obvious and aren’t following.

Google is an advertising company. Coming (back) to TV strikes me of a very conservative move (even though it does have a very innovative twist in this case). If all of a sudden all Google can think of to increase it’s revenue stream is to get more via television, then it seems to me it has run out of ideas on how to monetize ads (which I personally might be thankful for, but still…). It’s coming back to the best bread winner for ad companies there ever was.

If this is a sign of where Google’s heading, then it might be an indication that the time of intense web innovation at Google is over.

Whether this is true, or even whether that is a bad thing remains to be seen. I welcome your thoughts on both points.

These days all the young kids love Google. All the older kids too actually. Heck, pretty much everybody loves Google. I don’t.

A little bit of (my own) history

Sure, I used Google for years. Started somewhere in 1999, after having been a happy AltaVista user. At the time, there were no doubts Google had made some major breakthroughs in search. So of course I switched to Google. And then, there was this other nice side to it: it was the new kid on the block, a nice little company, very far from any corporate behemoth.

Nowadays however, it is in my view the most dangerous corporation on the planet, and definitely much worse than any corporate behemoth I might have worried about in the late 90’s or early 2000’s. And it is absolutely adored by everyone, with the most vocal lovers being people who probably don’t even recall a time before Google.

What does Google do exactly?

Google does search, obviously. It also, and this is not an exhaustive list:

  • Provides hosted email (Gmail)
  • Provides maps & geolocalisation (Google maps)
  • Provides hosted RSS feed management (Google Reader)
  • Provides an operating system (Android)
  • Provides a web browser (Chrome)
  • Provides an office productivity suite (Google docs)

A comparison point

Now, the fact a company provides lots of services is not a bad thing of course. Rather the contrary. The issue is with what puts Google apart from most other players in the same markets. I’ll contrast with Microsoft here, but the argument holds when contrasting with many other companies.

You see, a universal fact about companies is that they want your money – and there’s certainly nothing objectionable to that. What makes companies different from one another, is how they seek to get your money.

Microsoft is interested in your workflow (I see raised eyebrows). The way Microsoft wants to make itself valuable to you, and hence entice you into giving them money, is by defining how you work. What they want, is to make sure that every time you have a task to carry out, you will use (and hopefully pay for) a Microsoft product. Want to use a computer? Here’s Windows for you. Want to write a document or make some calculations? Here’s Office. Email? Outlook/Exchange. Build internal collaboration in your company? SharePoint. Find something? Bing. Play a video game? Xbox.

What matters to Microsoft is what you do. Not exactly the specifics of what you do – they couldn’t care less whether you’re writing internal memos or the next great American novel in MS Word – but how you do it, what tasks are involved.

And then it will monetize those tasks. This can be done directly by making you pay for software, or indirectly. In the indirect method, you get something free, say, internet search. Well, it just so happens that the tight integration of the whole suite of free applications with other paying applications makes said paying applications more attractive.

Never said this monetization of free apps was so effective mind you, but that’s their strategy. They’re interested in your tasks, your workflow.

Back to Google

Now Google provides pretty much the same products and services as Microsoft. So their model is pretty similar, right?

Wrong. Couldn’t be more different.

Google’s revenue comes, nearly exclusively, from advertisement. For all analytical purposes, Google can be seen as an advertisement firm. And ever since the sector came into existence, advertisers have only ever been interested in one thing.

Your data.

Who you are. What you do. Why you do it. How much money that brings you. What books you read. What you like. What you don’t like.

They want to know everything about you.

For those who aren’t following, the reason they want this is to be able to target their ads to you in the most efficient way possible, in order to maximize clicks on the ads, and thus maximize advertising revenue.

It just so happens that Google has all that information on you. After all:

  • It can read you email (Gmail)
  • It knows where you are and where you like to go (Google maps)
  • It knows what you like and are interested in (Google search and Reader)
  • It knows what you do and what data you generate (Google apps)
  • It could know how much relative time you spend on any task (Android)

 

This is an advertisement’s agency ultimate goal.

It just so happens that this also any totalitarian state’s wet dream come true.

Don’t be evil!

Ah yes, the famous unofficial motto of Google is “don’t be evil”. That should be reassuring, right?

Well, I don’t know about you, but that motto, if anything, makes me worry even more. That somebody in a corporate environment could even consider that a motto speaks volumes. Let me give you an example.

What would you think about one of your kid’s teachers telling you his main goal in his work is “don’t rape the kids”? Would you be reassured? Or very much worried that somebody needs to state the obvious like that to exorcise some inner compulsion?

I feel the same about Google.

The track record

The good news is, as far as I’m aware, Google hasn’t yet launched into massive scale exploitation of the data it has at it’s disposal, nor has it transformed into some evil big brother.

Yet.

There are some worrying trends, and not only based on the sheer amount of data Google has at it’s disposal.

Google has already been actively seeking collaboration with government for years. And not just for nice stuff, either, for war. Yup, all that nifty Google earth technology has already been purposefully adapted for warfare. That means killing people. It doesn’t get much more evil than that in my book.

Google is also keen on collaborating with the NSA. Oh sure, in this case the aim is that the NSA help Google secure it’s network and work against cybercrime, and not that NSA access Google’s data. But as arguably the organisation with the largest wealth of information on people, Google collaborating with a spying agency makes me nervous.

Oh yeah, and by the way, isn’t it just a tad worrying that Google’s data repositories apparently need securing? So these guys have all your data, but can’t protect it? Because, in case you haven’t been paying attention, that’s what triggered the whole China debacle recently. Actually, China deserves a section of it’s own.

The China thing

People are so busy lauding Google’s courage for pulling out of China these days, that they tend to forget what really happened.

In 2006, Google readily complied with Chinese requests to self-censor it’s contents. They did it in a heartbeat.

Now don’t get me wrong, I definitely think it’s better for oppressed people to get some access to information rather than none at all, so in the long run, I believe Google’s move there was for the best. But what I found worrying was Google’s eagerness to go and adapt their “don’t be evil” motto to fit it’s actions. Far from demonstrating they were a principled company, Google showed it’s principles were highly negotiable based on what they felt was needed at a precise moment in time.

Then, recently, their Chinese infrastructure got hacked into. Fearing for their interests, they pulled out of China. If you bought into Google’s spin that this was because they had a change of heart about Chinese censorship, you’re a fool.

This last event is telling in two ways. First, it confirms that Google really doesn’t care about what is evil or not. If providing censored content was less evil than providing none in 2006, this remains so in 2010. So clearly, it’s all about their own interest, and not whatever is evil.

Second, it shows Google is not all that good at securing it’s data. And that’s downright terrifying. Because even if Google doesn’t do anything bad it has with the data it has collected, if this falls into the wrong hands (especially governmental ones), we’re in for some very bad trouble. Think 1984.

In a nutshell

Google has exactly the kind of data necessary to make an Orwellian hell come true. It has proven that it’s corporate culture is anything but principled, and more than willing to cooperate with governments, including for nefarious purposes such as killing people. On top of that, it has proven unable to secure the very sensitive data it has access to.

If despite all this you are still entrusting your data to Google, I guess you really love Big Brother.