The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Lifestyles

April 26, 2013

Is Google more powerful than some nations?

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Once upon a time, Google concerned itself with seemingly benign, profit-driven things: the optimal position of online ads for erectile dysfunction drugs, mapping the location of every sports bar in America, churning out free services to further cement a quasi-monopoly in global search.

But these are no longer the comfortable, well-established guardrails around Google.

More than two years ago, as governments on two continents were preparing to launch anti-trust investigations against it, Google began moving aggressively onto the turf of states. Today, Google is arguably one of the most influential nonstate actors in international affairs, operating in security domains long the purview of nation-states: It tracks the global arms trade, spends millions creating crisis-alert tools to inform the public about looming natural disasters, monitors the spread of the flu, and acts as a global censor to protect American interests abroad. Google has even intervened into land disputes, one of the most fraught and universal security issues facing states today, siding with an indigenous group in the Brazilian Amazon to help the tribe document and post evidence about intrusions on its land through Google Earth.

In a new form of digital statecraft, Google's executive chairman Eric Schmidt has traveled to North Korea against State Department wishes. "Keep the government out of regulating the Internet," he recently told an audience on a visit to Myanmar. (Disclosure: Schmidt is the chairman of the New America Foundation board. New America is a partner in Future Tense with Slate and Arizona State University.)

As Google evolves its role on the world stage, the fundamental question might be less about whether states might regulate Google, but whether states can compete against such a powerful, global technology platform. After all, Google appears to have emerged relatively unscathed from the threat of state intervention. In January, it was victorious after a two-year anti-trust investigation by U.S. regulators. Earlier this month, Google settled with European regulators following a two-year inquiry. And for the systematic collection of personal data, such as personal photographs and emails from Wi-Fi networks through its Street View mapping service, Google must pay what amounts to a pittance of a fine to a German privacy regulator.

Google's most explicit and organized foray into state domains has been under the banner of Google Ideas, its "think/do tank." Jared Cohen, who gained fame as a rising star of "digital diplomacy" at the State Department, joined Google in October 2010 to launch Google Ideas. It began with a trio of initiatives under the broad umbrellas of counter-radicalization, illicit networks, and fragile states. Through the unit, Google has collaborated with state authorities to dismantle what it calls illicit networks, such as drug cartels and human trafficking, and worked with the U.S. government's broadcasting arm, Voice of America, to run the "first phone-based constitutional survey" in Somalia.

It has even staked a claim in the fight against violent extremism, in which there has "traditionally been an over-reliance on governments," as Cohen wrote in a post on Google's corporate blog nearly a year ago. "What do a former violent jihadist from Indonesia, an ex-neo-Nazi from Sweden and a Canadian who was held hostage for 15 months in Somalia have in common?" Cohen asked. With this, Google Ideas launched the quasi-social network aimed at a demographic not typically coveted by advertisers: former gang members, religious extremists, right-wing nationalists, far-right fascists, or the victims thereof. The Against Violent Extremism network would spur a global conversation, "de-radicalize" youth and serve as a "one-stop shop" to reframe the issue of counter-radicalization. Wired called it the "Facebook for terrorists." Among America's foreign policy elite, it was praised as an example of something Google can do "much more easily than any government could." A year later, 231 former terrorists and violent extremists have joined AVE. But they're outnumbered: The network hosts almost three times as many private-sector members and Western elites, such as NGO workers and academics.

As Google carved out a role in terrorism prevention, state-based counter-radicalization programs have come under scrutiny. "Western governments . . . are unlikely to succeed in tackling the risk of future terrorism by attempting to shape religious ideology," Samuel Rascoff, a law scholar at New York University, wrote in a January 2012 paper questioning the effectiveness of state-based counter-radicalization efforts that promote "mainstream" theological alternatives to radical Islam. In addition to criticizing state-led efforts, Rascoff questioned initiatives by the private sector. Despite having a "less pronounced government footprint," he writes, nongovernmental actors in this space may rouse suspicion, with skeptical targets worrying "that the secretive national security apparatus plays some unknown role in the process." Indeed, Google's alignment with the national security apparatus is far from clear. Despite frequently touting transparency as a core value, the details of Google's relationship with the National Security Agency on encryption and cybersecurity remains a secret.

In a series of sketches about "our future world" in "The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business," a new book by Schmidt and Cohen, there is the slightest of hints of what Google's alignment with state security apparatuses might actually look like, especially in regards to counterterrorism efforts: "We'll use computers to run predictive correlations from huge volumes of data to track and catch terrorists, but how they are interrogated and handled thereafter will remain the purview of humans and their laws," they write. Is there a global, nonstate actor with more access to "huge volumes of data" than Google? Indeed, Google, which often bristles at regulation, may have little choice but to enter and cooperate more fully with states in the fraught arena of counterterrorism. "The public will demand that [technology companies] do more in the fight against terrorism," Cohen and Schmidt write. And this was before Boston, before every video watched and posted by Tamerlan Tsarnaev on YouTube had been scrutinized for signs of radicalization.

In "The New Digital Age," Schmidt and Cohen describe the Internet as the largest experiment involving anarchy in history. They go further, too, arguing it might "ultimately be seen as the realization of the classic international-relations theory of an anarchic, leaderless world." By describing the Internet in such dystopian fashion - a space ravaged by code wars and cyberwarfare, a place where terrorists get radicalized and illicit networks find global reach - Cohen and Schmidt justify Google's increasingly close ties with state security interests. Yet the authors conceive of the battle for power in our time as one mostly between citizens and states, a conception of the world that deflects less obvious questions: How state-like will states allow Google to become? As a global, borderless entity, what mechanisms exist for Google's billions of global users to hold Google accountable? Yes, Google allows users to download personal data and activity logs, but that's not exactly the same thing as having a say in how Google uses that same data.

Google's view on state regulation is certainly no secret. The defining theme of Schmidt and Cohen's book is "the importance of a guiding human hand," a clever rewrite of Adam Smith's centuries-old metaphor for free markets that even today animates our endless debates about the proper role of the state in regulating the economy. Schmidt and Cohen never explicitly refer to Google as the all-important "guiding human hand" the world needs today. Yet for a company that's never been humble, a company unafraid to enter the Sisyphean quest for global security, it is hard not to imagine that's what they meant.

               

 Frazier is a technology and business journalist based in Columbus, Ohio, and a graduate student studying political and legal geography at Ohio State University. Follow her on Twitter @myafrazier.



    



 

1
Text Only
Lifestyles
  • CATS-DOGS281.jpg Where cats are more popular than dogs in the U.S.-and all over the world

    We all know there are only two types of people in the world: cat people and dog people. But data from market research firm Euromonitor suggest that these differences extend beyond individual preferences and to the realm of geopolitics: it turns out there are cat countries and dog countries, too.

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • The Clinton Herald Jim Miller Low-cost, free cellphone options for seniors DEAR SAVVY SENIOR: What are the cheapest cell phone options available today to seniors living on a shoestring budget? I only need it for occasional calls. — Seldom Calling SeniorDEAR SELDOM: For financially challenged seniors who only want a cell pho

    July 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • YWCA offers lifeguard training

    CLINTON — The YWCA will offer lifeguard training in August.The course will be held from Aug. 4 to 10 at the YWCA. This 30-hour class will meet from 5 to 9 p.m. for four weeknights and from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday. A possibility of adding a class from 1

    July 25, 2014

  • GPS race Teams race to complete challenges THOMSON, Ill. — A challenge in August will pit teams against each other to complete a series of challenges.The event will begin at 9 a.m. Aug. 16 at the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge in Thomson. Armed with GPS units, teams

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Habitat for Humanity hosts fundraiser

    CLINTON — Habitat for Humanity will host a fundraiser in Thomson, Illinois.The Clinton County group will showcase Laid Back Luau from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 8, at Heirloom Cafe in Thomson. The event will feature games, prizes, music train rides for

    July 25, 2014

  • Fire departments undergo grain bin rescue training OMAHA — The Goose Lake and Lost Nation Volunteer Fire Departments each have received lifesaving grain bin rescue equipment through a donation from Farm Credit Services of America.Goose Lake received its equipment July 14 and Lost Nation on July 15. E

    July 24, 2014

  • ADM donates $75K for fire boat purchase CLINTON — Archer Daniels Midland Company has donated $75,000 to the city of Clinton for a new fire and rescue boat for the Clinton Fire Department.The boat will help the fire department respond to fires, administer emergency medical services and resp

    July 24, 2014

  • Students get first-hand look at non-profits CLINTON — An upcoming event will showcase Clinton area’s non-profits to incoming Ashford University students.The second Fresh START (Serving to Achieve Results Together) event will be held Saturday, Aug. 16. Students and staff members will serve at v

    July 23, 2014

  • Friend of the Fair Two honored as 'Friends' MORRISON, Ill. — The Whiteside County Fair recently announced its 2014 Friend of the Fair. Paul Vock and Dan Heusinkveld are this year’s honorees. The two men have been involved with the fair for decades.Vock started with the fair in 1971 as the Heav

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Bice Nurses earn Daisy awards

    CLINTON — Two Clinton nurses recently earned Daisy awards.Mercy Medical Center nurses Jodie Atkinson and Kristen Bice earned the awards that is rewarded to extraordinary nurses. Atkinson began her career in nursing at Mercy Medical Center in 1995 on

    July 22, 2014 2 Photos

Front page
Clinton Herald Photos


Browse, buy and submit pictures with our photo site.

Poll

Should the city of Clinton appeal the open records violation ruling that will cost taxpayers $40,600?

Yes
No
     View Results
AP Video
Olympics 2014
Featured Comment
Featured Ads
Blue Zones Project
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.