You Can Now be Evil

Back in April, Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, testified in front of US Congress.

He faced hours of questioning about Russian propaganda during the US election and on Cambridge Analytica accessing 87 million user’s private data without their consent.

On Tuesday, he faced even more tough questions from the European Union.

The EU parliament was looking for explanations on election manipulation, fake accounts and the size of his ‘digital monster’.

And they had some challenging questions, like:

Are you ready to guarantee that upcoming European elections will be free of manipulation from foreign and hostile powers?

Facebook has admitted to creating “shadow profiles” of people who surf the web but don’t have a Facebook account. Is avoiding the internet entirely the only way to prevent Facebook from collecting my data?

What do you do with the data from non-Facebook users? Do you commercialize it? Is that morally acceptable?

I think it’s time to discuss breaking up Facebook, can you convince me not to do so?

How will you be remembered: As one the three big internet giants along with Steve Jobs and Bill Gates who have enriched our world, or as the genius who created a digital monster that is destroying our democracy and society?

Yet while they had hard questions, the format was much different from the US.

For one, the whole thing only lasted an hour and a half.

And, instead of each lawmaker having a back and forth, they all listed their questions at the beginning. Which meant that it left Zuckerberg with only half an hour to answer the questions in bulk.

Once again, Facebook came out looking ok. Their stock has been rising after his testimony in Brussels.

Yet while Facebook is getting all the bad rap, other companies collecting data are flying under the radar.

One of them is Google

Think about it. You pretty much use Google for everything.

All your location data (if you keep location tracking on), everything you have watched in YouTube, your search history…

Google even keeps an advertising profile of you to target ads.

In short, they hold a lot of data on you.

And they are slowly coming into the spotlight too.

For much of the company’s existence, their unofficial motto has been ‘Don’t be evil’. A motto they incorporated into their code of conduct.

According to the book Founders at work, the phrase came from Gmail’s creator Paul Buchheit back in 2000. As Buchheit said, he ‘wanted something that, once you put it in there, it would be hard to take out.’ The motto was ‘also a bit of a jab at a lot of the other companies, especially our competitors, who at the time, in our opinion, were kind of exploiting the users to some extent.

The motto was very much part of their culture for the last 18 years, it even served as a wi-fi password on Google’s shuttles. 

Yet, as Gizmodo reports, Google has recently removed the ‘Don’t be Evil’ clause from the code of conduct in late April or early May.

Here is the original version from Gizmodo:

‘”Don’t be evil.” Googlers generally apply those words to how we serve our users. But “Don’t be evil” is much more than that. Yes, it’s about providing our users unbiased access to information, focusing on their needs and giving them the best products and services that we can. But it’s also about doing the right thing more generally — following the law, acting honorably, and treating co-workers with courtesy and respect.

‘The Google Code of Conduct is one of the ways we put “Don’t be evil” into practice. It’s built around the recognition that everything we do in connection with our work at Google will be, and should be, measured against the highest possible standards of ethical business conduct. We set the bar that high for practical as well as aspirational reasons: Our commitment to the highest standards helps us hire great people, build great products, and attract loyal users. Trust and mutual respect among employees and users are the foundation of our success, and they are something we need to earn every day.

And here is how it reads now:

The Google Code of Conduct is one of the ways we put Google’s values into practice. It’s built around the recognition that everything we do in connection with our work at Google will be, and should be, measured against the highest possible standards of ethical business conduct. We set the bar that high for practical as well as aspirational reasons: Our commitment to the highest standards helps us hire great people, build great products, and attract loyal users.

‘Respect for our users, for the opportunity, and for each other are foundational to our success, and are something we need to support every day.

Much different, right? Admittedly, they still kept one reference at the end: ‘And remember…don’t be evil, and if you see something that you think isn’t right — speak up!

But they have clearly softened the message.

To add to it, several employees have recently left the company and more than 4,000 have signed a petition in protest of Google’s involvement with Project Maven.

Project Maven is a US military artificial intelligence program that helps identify persons and objects and that can be used to improve drone attacks during combat.

And, if you weren’t yet unsettled, there is also Selfish Ledger…

Last Thursday, The Verge published a video leaked from Google.

X, Alphabet’s research facility, made the video for internal use in 2016. X’s aim is to invent and launch ‘moonshot’ technologies to make the world a better place.

The video describes a ‘selfish ledger’. As The Verge described it:

The video, shared internally within Google, imagines a future of total data collection, where Google helps nudge users into alignment with their goals, custom-prints personalized devices to collect more data, and even guides the behavior of entire populations to solve global problems like poverty and disease.

On the video, the data, collected by your devices, is a changing representation of who we are. And, this data, our data mind you, doesn’t belong to us. As the video continues:

What if the ledger could be given a volition or purpose rather than simply acting as a historical reference? What if we focused on creating a richer ledger by introducing more sources of information? What if we thought ourselves not as the owners of this information, but custodians, transient carriers, or carertakers.

This whole collection of data, according to the video, can then be used to understand and make humanity better.

Google has since replied that this is just a thought experiment and it is not related to any current or future products. A ’speculative design to explore uncomfortable ideas and concepts to provoke discussion and debate’.

But, it’s creepy right?

Yet, what’s even more worrying is that even with these things coming to light we are still easily giving out our data.

Best,

Selva Freigedo,
Editor, Markets & Money


Selva Freigedo is an analyst with a background in financial economics. Born and raised in Argentina, she has also lived in Brazil, the US and Spain. She has seen economic troubles firsthand, from economic booms to collapses and the ravaging effects of hyperinflation, high unemployment, deposit freezes and debt default. Selva now writes from her vantage point here in Australia. She is lead Editor at the daily e-letter Markets & Money. And every week, she goes through each report and research note produced by our global network of trusted advisors to find the best investment opportunities for you in Australia and overseas. She packages these opportunities for you in Global Investor.


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