The Crazy ‘Imploding Robot’ Analogy Google Used to Justify Reading Your Email

If a robot reads your diary and then implodes, is it a threat to privacy?

National Journal
Dustin Volz
Add to Briefcase
Dustin Volz
May 20, 2014, 10:11 a.m.

Long be­fore Ed­ward Snowden ex­posed how the gov­ern­ment ex­ploits per­son­al data culled by In­ter­net com­pan­ies, pri­vacy ad­voc­ates feared that Google’s meth­ods of min­ing email con­tent was a dis­aster in the mak­ing.

Back in 2004, former Cali­for­nia state Sen. Liz Figueroa wanted to ad­vance le­gis­la­tion that would have al­lowed people the right to opt out of the tar­geted ad­vert­ising Google used in its then-new email ser­vice, Gmail.

No­ti­cing her skep­ti­cism, Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page sat down with Figueroa to dis­cuss her con­cerns about how com­pany bots read emails.

“All of a sud­den, Sergey star­ted talk­ing to me,” Figueroa re­counts in the second in­stall­ment of PBS’s new Front­line doc­u­ment­ary, United States of Secrets. “He said, ‘Sen­at­or, how would you feel if a ro­bot went in­to your home and read your di­ary and read your fin­an­cial re­cords, read your love let­ters, read everything. But be­fore leav­ing the house, it im­ploded.’ “

Brin pro­ceeded to tell Figueroa that such a ro­bot, like Gmail, didn’t vi­ol­ate pri­vacy be­cause “noth­ing’s kept, nobody knows about it.” (Start the clip above at 2:05 to watch the full ex­change.)

Figueroa was shocked by the strange com­par­is­on — and en­tirely un­con­vinced.

“Does that ro­bot know if I’m sad or if I’m feel­ing fear or what’s hap­pen­ing?” she asked Brin. “And he looked and me and said, ‘Oh, no. That ro­bot knows a lot more than that.’ “

Figueroa ul­ti­mately amended her bill, be­liev­ing that Google would not keep the per­son­al in­form­a­tion it col­lec­ted. “Un­be­knownst to me, ul­ti­mately they were go­ing to store the in­form­a­tion,” she ex­plains in the doc­u­ment­ary.

Ten years later, it’s al­most im­possible to es­cape the type of ad-tar­get­ing that Google pop­ular­ized with Gmail, no mat­ter where you go on the In­ter­net. Face­book tracks user be­ha­vi­or to tar­get ads to its more than 1 bil­lion users.

Com­pan­ies like Google for years de­fen­ded their data-col­lec­tion prac­tices and said that it was bey­ond the reach of gov­ern­ment au­thor­it­ies. But leaks sup­plied by Snowden and pub­lished by The Wash­ing­ton Post last Decem­ber re­vealed that the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency has ex­ploited a type of Google “cook­ie” used to track In­ter­net activ­ity for the pur­poses of its own sur­veil­lance. The Snowden files have also ex­posed an NSA pro­gram that secretly broke in­to the serv­ers of nine U.S. In­ter­net com­pan­ies, in­clud­ing Google.

“Gmail was a pri­vacy dis­aster,” Chris Hoofnagle, the dir­ect­or of Berke­ley Cen­ter for Law & Tech­no­logy, told Front­line.

What We're Following See More »
TRUMP CONTINUES TO LAWYER UP
Kasowitz Out, John Dowd In
1 days ago
THE LATEST

As the Russia investigation heats up, "the role of Marc E. Kasowitz, the president’s longtime New York lawyer, will be significantly reduced. Mr. Trump liked Mr. Kasowitz’s blunt, aggressive style, but he was not a natural fit in the delicate, politically charged criminal investigation. The veteran Washington defense lawyer John Dowd will take the lead in representing Mr. Trump for the Russia inquiry."

Source:
ALSO INQUIRES ABOUT PARDON POWER
Trump Looking to Discredit Mueller
1 days ago
THE LATEST

President Trump's attorneys are "actively compiling a list of Mueller’s alleged potential conflicts of interest, which they say could serve as a way to stymie his work." They plan to argued that Mueller is going outside the scope of his investigation, in inquiring into Trump's finances. They're also playing small ball, highlighting "donations to Democrats by some of" Mueller's team, and "an allegation that Mueller and Trump National Golf Club in Northern Virginia had a dispute over membership fees when Mueller resigned as a member in 2011." Trump is said to be incensed that Mueller may see his tax returns, and has been asking about his power to pardon his family members.

Source:
INCLUDES NY PROBE INTO MANAFORT
Why Yes, Mueller Is Looking into Trump Businesses
2 days ago
THE LATEST

In addition to ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, Robert Mueller's team is also "examining a broad range of transactions involving Trump’s businesses as well as those of his associates, according to a person familiar with the probe. FBI investigators and others are looking at Russian purchases of apartments in Trump buildings, Trump’s involvement in a controversial SoHo development in New York with Russian associates, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow, and Trump’s sale of a Florida mansion to a Russian oligarch in 2008, the person said. The investigation also has absorbed a money-laundering probe begun by federal prosecutors in New York into Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort."

Source:
Mueller Expands Probe to Trump Business Transactions
2 days ago
THE DETAILS

Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team is "is examining a broad range of transactions involving Trump’s businesses as well as those of his associates", including "Russian purchases of apartments in Trump buildings, Trump’s involvement in a controversial SoHo development with Russian associates, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow and Trump’s sale of a Florida mansion to a Russian oligarch in 2008."

Source:
ANALYSIS FROM CBO
32 Million More Uninsured by 2026 if Obamacare Repealed
2 days ago
THE LATEST

"A Senate bill to gut Obamacare would increase the number of uninsured people by 32 million and double premiums on Obamacare's exchanges by 2026, according to an analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. The analysis is of a bill that passed Congress in 2015 that would repeal Obamacare's taxes and some of the mandates. Republicans intend to leave Obamacare in place for two years while a replacement is crafted and implemented."

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login