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Google recently generated a flurry of coverage about its supposed privacy pivot, including an op-ed in The New York Times by chief executive Sundar Pichai. “We feel privileged that billions of people trust products like Search, Chrome, Maps, and Android to help them every day,” Pichai wrote. It’s not that we necessarily trust Google. It’s that, as a near monopoly, we have no choice. In fact, the crisis of trust — after a year of data breaches and congressional appearances — has led all the major tech companies to launch public relations campaigns around privacy. This is a smokescreen to satisfy regulators and pacify consumers while continuing their data exploitation activities. While some of the changes they have made are positive, they have no intention to give up their lucrative business model of ads powered by surveillance, which is fundamentally at odds with privacy. There was a time when we had meaningful privacy on the Internet. In the early days, dot-com barons weren’t interested in surveillance and data mining. The business model was subscriptions, led by companies like America Online, which dominated the space. As more users moved away from proprietary portals like America Online toward the open Internet, browsers and search replaced subscriber services as the gateway to the web. Clicks and user data seeded the beginnings of what is now called surveillance capitalism. By the end of the decade, a science project at Stanford was on pace to supplant “search” as a verb. Ironically, Google is an ad-funded doppelganger of the subscriber services it replaced. Instead of charging users for access, it simply spies on their online activity, location history, and behaviors to give advertisers (their true customers) unprecedented power to manipulate consumer behavior. For more navigate to OUR FORUM.

 

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