Google on Your Shoulder

Article by Robert Epstein, Ph.D.

In my opinion, 2020 is the watershed year on this issue. It is either the year we turn over democracy, free speech and human autonomy to Google-and-the-Gang — or the year we fight them.

How to Fight Google

Outside China, which takes great pride in using emerging technologies to surveil and control its population — sometimes with Google’s help — Google and, to a lesser extent, other Silicon Valley tech companies pose the greatest threat to humanity it has ever faced. Over the past year or two, and with increasing frequency, I have been approached repeatedly by members of the U.S. Congress, by the attorneys general of several U.S. states and by White House staff, all of whom are concerned about the obscene power of Big Tech.

Some of these officials are conducting investigations, and some members of Congress have held hearings.

But no laws or regulations will ever keep up with rapidly changing and emerging technologies. By the time a piece of legislation is passed, the tech companies have outgrown it by decades.

So what, if anything, can we do?

On a small scale, we can all take steps to safeguard our privacy and the privacy of our family members. For details, please see my article at MyPrivacyTips.com, which begins, “I haven’t received a targeted ad on my computer or mobile phone since 2014.”

At the societal level, I know of only one way, both in the short term and in the murky future to come, that we can protect ourselves from domination by Big Tech, and that is to build a permanent worldwide network of passive monitoring systems — large-scale versions of the systems I set up in 2016 and 2018.

These systems will monitor the content tech companies are showing people on their screens and telling people on their personal assistants. Monitoring systems are tech, so they can keep up with whatever the tech companies are throwing at us: surveillance and control mechanisms built into the rapidly growing internet of things, wearables and self-driving vehicles, for example. Looking ahead, monitoring systems will even be able to detect and expose manipulations implemented through the biological implants that will make our children and grandchildren especially vulnerable.

Alas, since I’m guessing you’ll be reading this essay not long before the November presidential election in the U.S., I need to end on a dark note. In 2016 and 2018, my associates and I had relatively little trouble raising funds to build online election monitoring systems. It’s common sense, after all. Monitoring systems must exist to preserve those ephemeral experiences Google employees are so proud of.

But this year — the watershed year, as I said — we were unable to find funding, at least in part because the coronavirus has frozen many funding sources. This means that in this critically important election, we will have no idea how Big Tech was interfering, even though I have no doubt that they are interfering at this very moment on a massive scale.

It also means the Democrats are likely to sweep Washington, D.C. That doesn’t bother me, except that early next year both Congress and the White House will almost certainly shut down every single investigation of Big Tech shenanigans that has been initiated in recent years.

From that moment forward, the big threats these companies pose to humanity — the ubiquitous surveillance, the politically biased censorship, and the invisible manipulation — will become permanently embedded in countries around the world.

Robert Epstein (@DrREpstein), a former editor-in-chief of Psychology Today, is senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology. He has published 15 books and more than 300 articles on AI and other topics. You can support and learn more about his research on online influence.

People trade security for convenience. Anyone who has ever used a password or flown since post-911 knows that. So how much will we pay Google for making our lives easier?

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