The Revolution Will Not Be On Facebook

Domestic, International

Facebook Censorship

Facebook is proving that it cares more about expanding internationally than protecting users’ rights to privacy and expression.

On Jan. 9, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg released a firm and emotional statement on the importance of free speech to Facebook, signing off with the ubiquitous hashtag, “Je Suis Charlie.”

A few weeks later, Facebook complied with an order from the Turkish government to remove images of the Prophet Mohammed, the latest in a series of moves from the social network that give into government influence. The decision reflects the lucrative market that Turkey represents for the American tech company.

In late December, Facebook acquiesced to the Russian government’s order to block access to a page calling for a protest in support of Alexei Navalny. Navalny is Russian President Vladamir Putin’s most vocal critic and is currently under house arrest in Moscow.

It’s also no secret that Zuckerberg has been actively seeking to have Facebook operate in the Chinese market, hosting the Chinese minister of Cyberspace Administration at Facebook’s headquarters, and sucking up to the Chinese President Xi Jinping. If Facebook did receive permission to operate in China, where it is currently blocked, it would certainly have to cooperate with censorship orders from the Chinese government.

Facebook argues that it is simply complying with local laws in the countries that it operates and touts reports it releases with aggregated government requests for data and censorship. Turkey’s government threatened to block access to the entire site if Facebook did not cooperate with its censorship orders.

Facebook is not a “public square.” It is a corporation, and it will do whatever it can to increase market share. However, if Facebook truly wanted to be the force for freedom of expression it claims to be, it could use its considerable influence and visibility to stand up against and refuse to be complicit in repressive government policies.

A Cross Section of Google’s Search Engine

Drawing

A Cross Section of Google's Search Engine Drawing

 

 Google is involved in a lot more than directing you to websites.

Click for a larger image and scroll down for notes.

 

Google Search

Search is the feature that made Google famous, and the company now handles approximately 3.5 billion searches per day using a complex algorithm to deliver accurate results. To do this, Google “crawls” the Internet’s 60 trillion pages, and organizes it into the company’s 100 million gigabyte index of the Internet. Google has also indexed more than 20 million books for its searchable database, Google Books.

 Advertising 

Advertising is where the bulk of Google’s money comes from, pulling in over $40 billion in revenue for the company each year. Google uses the information it learns about individuals from search and from mobile app data to deliver targeted ads.

Google Maps and Location Services 

Google has created a digital map of the Earth, viewable in Google Maps and Google Earth. Using satellite imagery and on-the-ground data acquired by a fleet of cars fitted with panoramic cameras, Google has been amassing huge amounts of geo-data, including information like driving conditions, street signs and speed limits. That the cars were also able to capture Wi-Fi network information is the subject of an ongoing lawsuit against the company. Google also stores the personal location data it collects from mobile devices.

Google and the NSA 

While all tech companies deny giving NSA direct access to their servers, nine of the largest tech companies, including Google, are legally required to turn over personal data to the government when ordered through a program called PRISM.  The NSA has also been able to secretly access this data through back doors, using a program called MUSCULAR.

Self Driving Car 

As part of Google’s semi-secret Google[x] lab, the company has been developing a self-driving car and the software to run it, called Google Chauffeur. The self-driving car, which still requires a human chaperone, has already logged more than half a million miles on the road without causing an accident, which is important given how bad at driving humans are. While it is unclear whether the technology will lead to fully automated cars or hybrid, computer-assisted cars, the advances in this field have the potential to change the way humans interact with automobiles.

Robotics 

Google acquired 8 robotics companies in January and February, including Boston Dynamics, a prominent robotics company with ties to the defense industry. While many of the acquired companies are hardware producers, some, like DeepMind Technologies, specialize in artificial intelligence and machine learning. So far, Google has been quiet about what they will be used for.

Google Glass 

Another Google[x] project, Google Glass is essentially an internet-connected wearable face computer. Equipped with a camera, its so-far limited roll-out has been contentious.

Google[x] Future Projects

In addition to the self-driving car, Google Glass and robotics, Google[x] is involved in a variety of other “moon-shot” projects that outsiders can only speculate about. One such project, a literal “space elevator,” is on hold while technology improves. Same goes for the hoverboard.

Calico  

Calico, short for California Life Company, is a health company started by Google and tasked with unlocking the secrets of aging and longevity. While little is known about the company, Google CEO Larry Page commented, “Illness and aging affect all our families. With some longer term, moonshot thinking around healthcare and biotechnology, I believe we can improve millions of lives.”

Nest 

In January, Google paid a startling $3.2 billion for Nest, a company that manufactures high-end internet connected thermostats and smoke alarms. While the device is certainly cool, it is the home energy usage data that Nest generates which is particularly valuable to energy companies and makes the company a strategic investment.

 Android 

Google developed and maintains its own mobile operating system called Android, now the most common mobile operating system in the world. They also produce their own smart phones and tablets called Nexus. In 2012, Google bought Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion, primarily for the original cell phone company’s extensive patent portfolio. Google sold most of the company to Lenovo earlier this year, but is keeping it’s “Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) group, headed by former DARPA director Regina Dugan. The team is currently working on a modular phone concept that has the potential to seriously alter the structure of the smartphone market.

 Legal Department

Like Apple and Samsung, Google is perpetually involved in high stakes legal disputes over patents and copyright infringement, as well as anti-trust concerns. They have also become one of the top spenders in Washington, coming in at #2 in lobbying expenditures in 2012.

 Google Energy 

Google’s data centers require a lot of electricity, and Google has been making investments in wind farms and solar energy to power its operations. Google Energy has a US government license to buy and sell energy, allowing it to potentially act as a utility company. In 2013, Google purchased Makani, a company that aims to make tethered airborne wind turbines that can reach heights (and wind speeds) impractical for heavy, ground-based turbines.

 Project Loon and Titan

Using a combination of high-altitude blimps and drones, courtesy of Googles recent acquisition of drone manufacturer Titan Aerospace, Google is hoping to provide “balloon-powered internet for everyone.”

 Google Fiber 

Google Fiber is a high-speed internet and TV project, currently operational in Kansas City and Provo, Utah. The project seems to be more about shaming big TV and Internet providers like Verizon, Comcast and AT&T into providing better service than actually competing with them. Google Fiber is looking to set up similar infrastructure in 34 more cities.

Check out this cartoon and more at The Gabbler!

The C.I.A.’s Congressional Oversight

Domestic

Congressional Oversight

Lately, the Federal government has sought to assure Americans that its intelligence and spy agencies have strong congressional oversight. However, a recent incident involving the C.I.A. allegedly impeding, intimidating, and even hacking the committee responsible for holding it accountable, suggests that the C.I.A. is also overseeing Congress.

You Are Registered As A Participant In A Mass Disturbance

Domestic, International

Ukraine Protests Kiev

 

Protesters in Kiev, Ukraine recently received an ominous text message based on their proximity to the ongoing demonstrations in the center of the city. It’s easy to feel like technology is helping citizens organize and protest against the government until you receive a targeted text message reminding you that the government is watching your every move. While this cartoon is inspired by the events in Ukraine,  it can be applied much more generally to protest and dissent in any country, as mass surveillance technologies like facial recognition continue to develop and become ubiquitous.

 

What Went Wrong With Healthcare.gov?

Domestic

What went wrong with Healthcare

There is a lot I tried to reference in this cartoon, because asking  what went wrong with a government website can lead in a lot of different directions. I found the contracting process the most interesting . In sum, only certain well-connected companies with the proper certifications can be awarded these kind of  IT contracts. This means that behemoths like CGI, and even contractors that traditionally deal in defense projects like Northrop Grumman, Booz Allen Hamilton, and General Dynamics were picked to work on the Obamacare Exchange, instead of  more agile and appropriate firms.

CGI Federal, which is a subsidiary of a the Canadian Firm CGI Group, has many more projects in the pipeline. According to the Washington Post, that’s an 8 billion dollar pipeline of future orders that includes $871 Million for the Defense Information Systems Agency, $143 Million for visa processing in China, and a five year “indefinite quantity” contract with Homeland Security and the Coast Guard.

Building the National Security Apparatus

Domestic, Political Cartoons

National Security Apparatus

President Obama seems committed to rolling back the barefaced global elements of the “War on Terror,” but my worry is this will only quicken the assembly of the shadowy and unaccountable domestic security apparatus.

The troubling revelation of what many Americans already suspected – that the U.S. government has been amassing records of our personal communications and information on an incomprehensibly large scale – was met with outrage by some and resigned indifference on the part of most. I noticed three common arguments used to justify apathy on the matter.

1. Many Americans immediately suggested that data collection is fine because most people willingly share some personal information on social networks. Even some respected cartoonists seemed to be swinging for the government by blaming the snooping on American’s social media habits (“They’re just asking for it!”) 2. Additionally, many citizens, particularly the older generation, have suggested that if you’re writing something online, even on a private email, you should consider it public. 3. Maybe the most common display of dispassion is the line “I’m not a terrorist and I don’t have anything to hide, and if it catches terrorists it makes us safer.”

These three retorts are self-centered and for the most part, irrelevant arguments. The issue at hand is not that Big Brother is personally reading and analyzing all of your boring day-to-day interactions. The looming trouble is hiding in the colossal, permanent infrastructure constructed to grant the government limitless power and leverage over any individual or group it considers a threatening. Regardless of whether Americans share too much, there is an important difference between voluntarily sharing what brands you like with Facebook, and the state having the authority to pull records of any private conversation or interaction that may be able to use against you. The related recommendation that when we talk or act online – now the primary venue for many of our interactions – we should behave as though we’re under government surveillance strikes me as unacceptable for a country that prides itself on its commitment to civil liberties.

On the third point: Very few, if any, people self-identify as a terrorist. It’s the kind of thing we think “we know when we see,” but the label itself eludes any agreed upon definition and is almost exclusively used to subjectively demonize and delegitimize. The vagueness of the term “terrorist” and phrase “threat to national security” allows the government a lot of wiggle-room when it wants to use the sprawling counter-terrorism apparatus to target self-and-dictionary-defined whistleblowers like Edward Snowden. Similarly, it has been well documented by the Center for Media and Democracy that Homeland Security, often through the facilities of local and regional intelligence “fusion centers,” worked in concert with banks to spy on Occupy protesters calling for economic equality, greater representation, and the most threatening of all terrorist demands: transparency in our democratic process. (I recommend this summary of the government’s Occupy surveillance program.)

President Barack Obama seems committed to rolling back the barefaced global elements of the “War on Terror,” but my worry is this will only quicken the assembly of the shadowy and unaccountable domestic security apparatus. I only learned about the existence of the “fusion centers” when, as I was driving in a homeland-security-reinforced downtown Boston the week of the Marathon bombing, I was handed a piece of paper with grainy images of the Tsarnaev brothers under a banner header that read “Boston Regional Intelligence Center,” our local fusion center. When a Senate committee studied these intelligence centers, it found that:

“Fusion centers forwarded ‘intelligence’ of uneven quality —oftentimes shoddy, rarely timely, sometimes endangering citizens’ civil liberties and Privacy Act protections, occasionally taken from already published public sources, and more often than not unrelated to terrorism.”

In addition to the glaring and unaccountable violation of rights -and I’m not even attempting to address the monetary cost associated- the committee also stated that in the 13 months that it studied the 70+ fusion centers nationwide, it “could identify no reporting which uncovered a terrorist threat, nor could it identify a contribution such fusion center reporting made to disrupt an active terrorist plot.”  

The issue at hand is the sprawl of a security state with a declared mandate too narrow to justify its own colossal existence. Evidence suggests that the FBI is essentially encouraging would-be terrorists, simply to arrest them. This seems like a gross misuse of resources in a country that has no shortage of addressable problems to tackle. To me, there’s little difference between the threat posed by a lunatic who bombs a marathon finish line and the threat posed by a lunatic who shoots children in an elementary school, except that one justifies the establishment of an ubiquitous security apparatus unprecedented in size and scope. And in an effort to prevent the undetectable, Americans are accepting the erosion of rights inherent in such a security state, while being afforded none of the benefits.