Google Mail

Mail, we get mail. We get mail about Google and the best notes are almost always from folks who don’t agree with I’ve said.
First up: Bob Holmgren who lives in Menlo Park, CA. He also took the time to indirectly highlight something that I’ve noticed: In refusing to comply with the DOJ subpoena, Google has drawn attention to it – and other Internet companies’ – compliance with foreign governments’ requests for censorship or certain words and phrases. Be careful what you look for, huh?

In spite of your suggestion to the contrary, the Department of Justice did not go after any individual’s information. Everyone agrees on this point. Google and other search engines were asked about aggregated data of the sort the Census Bureau will sell you. (Horrors, another government spying program.) What Google was objecting to was the cost in time and manpower in order to comply with the order. Google says that this was harassment and who could argue? When asked by the IRS to submit to an audit I feel harassed – which is not to say I have a compelling legal argument.

As if to underscore Google’s lack of enthusiasm for the sort of human rights issue you’ve attempted to frame, they’ve now agreed to censor aspects of their search technology for the Chinese market. Manpower and harassment be damned. Wonder if they have Chinese lawyers working against the Justice Department.

Another reader, Tim Cole, who’s in Munich, Germany (I love the Internet) sides with my initial distrust and makes a nice follow-up to what Holmgren has said, particularly in regard to China:

It’s encouraging to hear that somebody else distrusts Google, too. They seem to be every Internet lover’s darling right now for supposedly standing up to the Bush administration, but as you rightly point out, their fight will probably only go so far. Meaning they plan to put up some token resistance and hand out a nice press release saying, in effect, “well, heck, at least we tried!”

Admittedly, I am paranoid about Google (and remember: just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get me…) but reading about they way they are shafting their Chinese users by knuckling under to the authorities there, censoring out search terms like “democracy”, “human rights” and “Tiamanen”, I have trouble believing that these, as you put it, “progressive libertarians” care for anything but their own bottom line.

In that case, using “Don’t be evil!” as your corporate slogan seems to carry duplicity to new depths.

And then there are folks who just like us. Terry Heaton is nice enough to say nice things about what I’ve said.:

Excellent piece on the government’s latest foray into our behavior. I agree with you completely. This isn’t about protection; it’s about control – specifically the control of knowledge and information. This is what institutions do – their core competency, if you will. Controlling any form of knowledge or information is a license to print money, and it’s why the Web is such a threat to the status quo.

While I think it might be useful to know which porn search terms people use, that knowledge doesn’t belong exclusively in the hands of our government. Good God, don’t they have anything better to do with our tax money?