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Aral Balkan:

…today, I admit that I was wrong about Google, Facebook, and surveillance capitalism in general being toxic for our human rights and democracy.

You see, it simply cannot be true given how they are endorsed by some of the most well-respected groups and organisations in the world. All the evidence points to Google and Facebook being good actors who are not threats to our privacy.

The FSF is the world’s foremost defender of software freedom. The Software Freedom Conservancy “is a not-for-profit charity that helps promote, improve, develop, and defend Free, Libre, and Open Source Software (FLOSS) projects.” This month, The Software Freedom Conservancy is organising the CopyLeft Conference sponsored by Google, Microsoft, and the FSF.

In fact, Google is such a force for good in the world that they are allowed to sponsor a CopyLeft conference even though they ban CopyLeft licenses at their company.

Mozilla is a not-for-profit for-profit organisation working to ensure “an Internet that truly puts people first, where individuals can shape their own experience and are empowered, safe and independent.” Mozilla makes Firefox, a browser that is Fast. Private. Fearless. That’s why its default search engine is Google.

Mozilla doesn’t have a problem with Google, frequently partners with them, and even uses Google Analytics.

Apple’s business model is to sell products to people. They are proud that this separates them from companies that sell people to people. As their building-tall ad at CES says, “What happens on your iPhone, stays on your iPhone.”

Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, has personally endorsed this commitment to privacy and this is why Apple has Google as the default search engine for their browser and why they welcome the 12 billion dollars of revenue that this deal brings in. Because Google is just like Apple and designs their services from the ground up to protect your privacy. Why else would Apple allow them on their phones and jeopardise your privacy?

If Apple is too commercial an example for you, then there’s GNOME, led by the non-profit GNOME foundation. They make a popular and usable display environment for UNIX-like systems. It’s what I use on my daily driver.

GNOME doesn’t see a problem with Google. In fact, Google is on their advisory board and apps on GNOME have first-class support for Google’s services.

If Gmail was bad for your privacy – if, for example, Google read all your messages and used it to profile you (I know, there I go with the nutty conspiracy theories again) – then GNOME foundation would not promote it in their software.

If they were forced to support Gmail just because it’s popular but absolutely hated doing so, they would put up a warning message to protect you. Something like “When you use Gmail, Google, Inc. will use the contents of your messages to profile you. Please only proceed if you understand the dangers.” But they don’t do that. On the contrary, they put it first and make it as easy as possible to set up and use so Gmail must be fine.

The Nordic Privacy Arena is a yearly gathering of data protection officers and privacy professionals. At this year’s event, Facebook had a keynote and I was told by the organisers to be nice to Facebook and Google, keep my points to my own talk and not challenge the speaker with questions after his talk like I did at Mozilla’s session.

They were so right! What was I thinking? Thankfully, they cut my question from the video of Mozilla’s talk so you don’t have to be subjected to my radical conspiracy theory that if you’re getting hundreds of millions of dollars from a corporation you perhaps might not be working against its interests.

I apologise profusely for being such a silly little pain in the ass. After all, if the data protection officers and privacy professionals organising and attending this event see no problem with Facebook or Google, who am I to disagree? These people are tasked with protecting our privacy. Surely, they have our best interests at heart and understand the basics of their job well enough to know exactly what they’re doing when they invite Google to keynote their next event.

Furthermore, the Facebook keynote was by Nicolas de Bouville whose previous job was at the French data protection office (CNIL), famous for its magnificent revolving doors. So if Nicolas chose to go work at Facebook after CNIL, surely Facebook can’t be that bad.

If Google, Facebook, etc., were even half as bad as I make them out to be, these organisations would not be partnering with or endorsing them.

I just want to apologise for being such a “Negative Nancy” and take this opportunity to thank the FSF, The Software Freedom Conservancy, Mozilla, Apple, The Nordic Privacy Arena, AccessNow, RightsCon, Amsterdam Privacy Week, CPDP, and GNOME for showing me the error of my ways. I now know, thanks to their moral leadership on this issue, that it’s perfectly fine for people working to protect human rights and democracy to take millions and billions from companies like Google and Facebook and to partner with them.

I must admit, I feel a little silly. The last five years would have been so much easier if only I’d understood this earlier.

Here’s wishing you all a world full of freedom sponsored by Google, privacy sponsored by Facebook, and democracy sponsored by Palantir.

Paul Ciano

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