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.
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After keeping the information private for most of the lead-up to the debate on Monday, it has been revealed that longtime Clinton aide Philippe Reines has been playing the role of Donald Trump in her debate prep. Reines knows Clinton better than most, able to identify both her strengths and weaknesses, and his selection for a sparring partner shows that Clinton is preparing for the brash and confrontational Donald Trump many have come to expect.
- A national Washington Post/ABC News poll shows Clinton leading Trump by just two points among likely voters, 46% to 44%.
- A national Bloomberg poll out Monday morning by Selzer & Co. has Clinton and Trump tied at 46% in a two-way race, and Trump ahead 43% to 41% in a four-way race.
- A CNN/ORC poll in Colorado shows likely voters’ support for Trump at 42%, 41% for Clinton, and a CNN/ORC poll in Pennsylvania has Clinton at 45% and Trump at 44%.
- A Portland Press Herald/UNH survey in Maine has Clinton leading Trump in ME-01 and Trump ahead in ME-02.
More than 30 times, in the case of some donors. Long before Cruz endorsed Trump—and before he even snubbed the nominee at the Republican National Convention—"the senator quietly began renting his vast donor email file to his former rival, pocketing at least tens of thousands of dollars, and more likely hundreds of thousands, that can be used to bankroll the Texan’s own political future."