Google Is Watching You

A new documentary, The Creepy Line, suggests that Google is not living up to its primary motto: “Don’t be Evil.” Instead, it is involved in activities that should be viewed with some concern by anyone who values privacy and freedom of speech.

Some facts from the film:

  • Google tracks your location history and keeps a log of everywhere you’ve been when you’ve accessed its services, especially if you have an Android device that is always with you.
  • Google uses every click to build a profile on you so as to determine your preferences and interests.
  • Google knows everything you’ve ever searched for. It knows what you’re looking for, sometimes even before you do. And it never forgets any search you’ve made.
  • Google knows every video you have watched on its video platform YouTube.
  • Google’s free email service (Gmail) is used by 44 percent of Americans. Google reads your emails, and even if you don’t use its service it still reads any emails you send to Gmail users.

The Creepy Line takes its title from former Google executive Eric Schmidt’s comment in 2010 when he said that Google’s job was to “get right up to the creepy line and not cross it.” The Creepy Line claims that Google (and also Facebook) has crossed that line in ways that many of us could not have contemplated

The film claims that Google is taking part in a deliberate manipulation of millions of users through its multiple platforms including YouTube to suppress conservative views. Specifically, the film suggests that during the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign, Google tweaked its search algorithm in an attempt to swing the election towards Hillary Clinton. The filmmakers explain that, thereafter, searches for Clinton on Google almost invariably returned positive stories. In contrast, searches on other search engines had a more equitable and realistic split between positive and not so positive points of view on Clinton and her polices. Perhaps Google’s alleged position should not surprise us too much given that Schmidt worked with the Clinton campaign in 2016. The filmmakers also point to the now well-known 2016 report revealing an anti-conservative bias in Facebook’s human-moderated “trending” topics.

 

The film’s basic thesis about Google is easily illustrated with recent examples. Following the 2016 election of Donald Trump, a leaked video showed Google’s co-founder Sergey Brin calling a Trump presidency “deeply offensive.” In August 2017, Google fired its employee James Damore, after he exposed and criticized a memo detailing what he described as the company’s ongoing liberal “ideological echo chamber.” These two examples would seem to confirm what many people had perceived already and quite a few conservatives had privately thought for some time—namely, that those who do not conform to the world view of entities such as Google and Facebook will be excluded and denied full access to the internet, which today is the equivalent of sending someone to Devil’s Island.

Interestingly, the only review of The Creepy Line on Rotten Tomatoes, the aggregate movie review site, is negative and dismisses the film as “a conspiratorial playbook for [the] right-wing tech backlash.” Given that the film deals with facts known to the general public and that the film simply collates these into a coherent narrative, it would seem to suggest that the sole purpose of the review is an ad hominem attack on its filmmakers rather than an assessment of some of the more disturbing facts they present. That there is only one review also speaks volumes. Fahrenheit 11/9 is another conspiracy theory-based film released around the same time as The Creepy Line. It is the latest volley from Michael Moore, and has to date 154 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes with a wholly positive score of 81 percent.

As we all know, if you have difficulty finding information about something online then in reality it no longer exists. Indeed, it does appear the unwelcome and thought-provoking message from The Creepy Line is being obscured online, as well as being ignored in the mainstream media especially among film reviewers. But then, the film’s contention is that Google actively hides news and information. What you get to see in a Google-search is only what Google wants you to see—and no more.

To some extent, many of us suspected a Google bias. For example, there was the company’s recent intervention in the Irish abortion referendum. Moreover, based on recent media coverage of both Google and Facebook there is growing concern from all sides about the extent and reach of these tech giants. Alongside this, there is a burgeoning belief that these “neutral platforms” are not quite as neutral as they claim to be. What is more surprising in The Creepy Line, however, is what happens to those who speak out against these now all-powerful entities.

Take the case of psychologist Robert Epstein, who published an article on the Politico website in 2015 entitled, “How Google Could Rig the 2016 Election.”

Epstein was definitely not part of a “right-wing backlash.” In fact, he was a Clinton supporter. Nevertheless, in his article Epstein’s basic contention was that, given Google’s strong ties to Democrats, there was reason to suspect that if Google or its employees were to intervene in the then upcoming presidential election, it would be to adjust the search algorithm to favor Hillary Clinton. To back this up, the article pointed out that in 2012, Google and its top executives donated more than $800,000 to Obama’s presidential campaign. In addition, at least six top tech officials in the Obama administration, including Megan Smith, the nation’s chief technology officer, were all former Google employees. It went on to cite a recent report by the Wall Street Journal claiming that since Obama had taken office, Google representatives visited the White House once a week on average, which was ten times more frequently than representatives from comparable companies.

While Google was quick to dismiss Epstein’s study as a “poorly constructed conspiracy theory,” Epstein soon found his Gmail account suspended and his access to Google as a search engine denied. Thereafter, effectively, he was rendered a non-person by Google.

Something similar happened to Professor Jordan Peterson, who also appears in the film, when he voiced his opposition to certain Canadian government legislative proposals. This led to his YouTube channel being deleted and his access to years of emails on his Gmail account being blocked. On screen what both Peterson and Epstein convey is the sense of powerlessness once these sanctions are imposed. There is no one at Google to contact; there is no way of remonstrating, nor even of asking why it happened.

As The Creepy Line points out, no one gets to vote for Google. Furthermore, Google is not a democracy and therefore doesn’t care what you think about it. The filmmakers suggest the Silicon Valley Behemoth is only interested in making money from you, and in making you think as it does. Put that idea alongside the fact that 90 percent of all Internet searches are via Google and you start to see the shape of things to come.

K. V. Turley

By

K. V. Turley is a London-based freelance writer and filmmaker.

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