Back in 2009, Google CEO and now Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, already under heavy fire for his company’s strategy to collect, store, and mine every shred of personal data out there, said on CNBC, “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”
It makes sense. Why worry about surveillance if you haven’t done anything wrong? This, in his unvarnished manner, is what he thinks about privacy. There is none. You don’t need it. You don’t want it. It’s not good for you. It just makes you appear guilty. It’s the philosophy under which police states operate.
Google has no compunction about reading emails of its Gmail users, browsing through user details in its social network services, tracking people throughout their searches, purchases, and reading patterns. It draws conclusions and combines it all with other data into a beautiful whole. For people with Android mobile devices, there is little Google doesn’t know.
But suddenly, Schmidt got all riled up about privacy issues of devices that Google doesn’t control through its software and that can access and record promising details of life: civilian drones. Including the toy-like “everyman” minidrones, such as multi-rotor helicopters. He wants them banned outright. And if they can’t be banned, he wants them regulated. To make his point, he dragged out an unfortunate example of a neighbor with an axe to grind:
“How would you feel if your neighbor went over and bought a commercial observation drone that they can launch from their back yard,” he said. “It just flies over your house all day. How would you feel about it?” He didn’t like that prospect. Not at all. “It’s got to be regulated,” he said, he whose company fights regulations wherever it encounters them. “It’s one thing for governments, who have some legitimacy in what they’re doing, but have other people doing it … It’s not going to happen.”
An unfortunate example because an insidious and at once funny Google moment of this type erupted in a village in France. A guy was urinating in his yard. We know he did; just then a Street View car drove by. Its camera, mounted on a rooftop post, could see over the closed gate and the perimeter enclosure and caught the hapless dude in flagrante delicto.
He didn’t know it at the time. And he didn’t know it when the scene appeared on Street View. His neighbors discovered the photo of him in his yard, relieving himself, face slightly blurred. It was only after he’d become the laughingstock of his village that he learned about it. Sure, in Schmidt’s surveillance-state words, he “shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”
So the difference between a Street View car and a drone is one of degrees. One can only capture what’s visible from its elevated equipment; the other can fly. One is an essential part of its business model; the other should be banned? Why his sudden handwringing about privacy when it comes to drones? Especially since Google is plowing a fortune into cars that drive themselves – road-bound drones, so to speak. The next step would be devices that fly. The mapping and control software would by then be on the shelf.
In a couple of years, the FAA will take up the delicate matter of drones used by civilians and companies. Perhaps by then, Google Ventures will fund a company that is developing the latest and greatest unmanned multi-rotor helicopters the size of a briefcase to replace the awkward Street View cars. They’d take pictures of the insides of homes, to show what a neighborhood is really like, beyond the facades. Users would love it. Software will blur the faces of the people inside to guard their “privacy,” very helpful, as the hapless dude in France found out. And then Google will oppose vigorously any regulation that doesn’t suit it. Because Airborne Street View would be the next leap forward for Google – and Schmidt must already be fantasizing about it.
Here are some tricks I use to maintain privacy and security on the internet – written in my own manner so that even I can follow the instructions: Windows 7, Internet Explorer, Silverlight, Flash Player, & Java Privacy Settings and Cleanup.
Last week the governments of France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and the United Kingdom fired a warning shot at Google and it appears they’re reloading the gun with real ammunition.
These government/corporation tiffs are frequent and their rhetorical fire normally turns into quickly dissipated smoke. This one could be different. It comes at a time when the world’s powerful are trying to decide how much privacy we people will have and what the term privacy actually means, and this squabble’s outcome will affect that and, of course, our freedom. That alone makes it worth watching.
But there’s something deeper here that transcends this conflict. Privacy is, in fact, a core component of democracy and any infringement on complete privacy is an obscene attack on the possibility of having a free and democratic society. As important as the outcome of this show-down might be, the most important and frightening development is that it’s taking place at all.
For a very long time, Google has known who uses each of its services and how, but now it knows which combination of services you use and how they interact with each other in your daily life. It also knows cities or towns of residence (and, in many cases, addresses) of its registered users, the IP addresses of their computers, their names (and often the names of their family members and friends), what they do on the Internet every day, what they buy and consider buying and, for those using Gmail, who they write to and what they write. It can hone in a your specific physical location with Goodgle Maps and will store that info if you map it. In fact, all this info is stored on Google’s databases with members’ tacit approval and Google’s complete understanding of what all this means.
“If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place,” Google CEO Eric Schmidt said in 2009. “If you really need that kind of privacy, the reality is that search engines — including Google — do retain this information for some time and it’s important, for example, that we are all subject in the United States to the Patriot Act and it is possible that all that information could be made available to the authorities.”
The information Google holds rivals and in some cases surpasses the information most governments have on their own citizens. So when Google released this new policy which permits it to combine that information and use it for evaluation, marketing and advertising, these governments commissioned France’s CNIL to investigate.
That selection, in itself, is striking. The CNIL is an independent, government-supported authority that specializes in data privacy law enforcement. France has among the strongest data collection restrictions in the world and, while CNIL has often been criticized by advocates for being too sheepish in its advocacy, data protection “sheepishness” in France would be considered ferocity in many other countries.
Like a trained bulldog, CNIL investigated all the Google data policies for nine months and then presented its report. It was devastating, accusing Google of policies and mechanisms that effectively violate privacy laws in most European countries. Based on that report, 24 of the EU’s 27 data regulators wrote Google a letter last December proposing about a dozen changes: among them that Google shouldn’t collect information on users without their consent, combine information from different services without additional consent or use the data it collects for advertising.
The four months passed. “Google did not provide any precise and effective answers,” CNIL said last week. “In this context, the EU data protection authorities are committed to act and continue their investigations. Therefore, they propose to set up a working group, led by the CNIL, in order to coordinate their reaction, which should take place before summer.”
In the diplomatic jargon of international regulation, those are fighting words. “Coordinate their reaction” is something the European Union’s countries seldom do (witness their financial crisis) and they almost never make threats around technology. Action against Google in Europe could affect the company’s relationship with one of its largest markets and a critical marketing link in the world-wide chain that is the Internet. Google could be crippled. That’s what that statement threatens.
But let’s not kid ourselves. A capitalist government, like those in Europe, has a system to protect and, to do the protecting, its police agencies routinely use data collected on the Internet about its citizens. As Google’s Schmidt put it in 2010: “In a world of asynchronous threats it is too dangerous for there not to be some way to identify you. We need a [verified] name service for people. Governments will demand it.”
So the issue here isn’t really how to protect people’s privacy; it’s how to balance the various approaches to impinging on it. Google says it needs information about you to match its marketing to what you buy; governments say they need information about you to monitor and control what you do the rest of the time. They’re trying to work out how these two approaches to information gathering can co-exist and not conflict with each other.
If, for example, a particular policy draws too much public attention to this issue or provokes a large lawsuit or gets people asking why their government isn’t — or is — doing something, that’s a problem. The government will then find its own privacy policies in the spotlight. That’s only one way this balance can become unbalanced, but in any case balance is the issue being disputed. There is really no debate about whether or not you have a right to privacy on the Internet. As far as both sides are concerned, you don’t, and both sides are most pleased if you’re not paying much attention to that fact.
It’s persistently perplexing how little most people care about this issue. Even many of the most politically conscious will often just shrug and say “there’s nothing that can be done about it”. After decades of increasing surveillance (oiled by a government-encouraged paranoia about terrorism) we expect the powerful of our society to know everything about us and, apparently, most of us can live with that. Some of us appear to think we can’t live without it.
But that battering of our democratic consciousness has not only lowered our guard against violations of our privacy; it has actually fostered a distorted understanding of what privacy actually is. Or better put: it’s convinced many of us that a small part of the privacy debate is the entire debate.
For purposes of the Internet, privacy is your ability to communicate with other people excluding anyone you want from that conversation and your ability to say what you want to those people (and listen to what they have to say) excluding people you don’t want listening.
Sure, what you say to your family or which websites you visit or what you consider buying on the Internet should, in a sane society, be your business and taking a snapshot of all this is a horrible personal violation. But the more dangerous violation is that, in establishing the means to eavesdrop on your life and honing the ability to store and analyze that information, powerful forces are systematically limiting what the Internet can be about.
What humanity created as a tool of freedom and, in many cases, struggle has been taken over by corporations and governments wielding lawsuits, imprisonment and largely unnoticed anti-freedom laws to pervert its original intent.
“When the Internet began… it was seen largely as a non-commercial oasis,” free-speech advocate and writer Robert McChesney told Democracy Now in a recent interview. “It was a place where people could go and be equal and be empowered as citizens to take on concentrated economic and political power, to battle propaganda… And there was no surveillance. People could do what they wanted and not be tracked.
“What’s been taking place… is that on a number of different fronts, extraordinarily large, monopolistic corporations have emerged: AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, at the access level; Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, at the application and use level. And these firms have changed the nature of the Internet dramatically… (and) they work closely with the government and the national security state and the military. They really walk hand in hand collecting this information, monitoring people, in ways that by all democratic theory are inimical to a free society.”
“Privacy” isn’t primarily individual and privacy laws aren’t in place only to address individual activities. In fact, you can’t be individually private on the Internet because then you wouldn’t be using the Internet. The privacy laws are there to make sure people can function in our exercise of free speech, exchange of information and association. They are, and always have been, a way to protect us from government inquiry and inquisition. Those laws that say a cop can’t just walk into your house and search it without a warrant or question you and those with you or keep close tabs on everything you do and who you do it with — those are privacy laws. They protect our collaborative activity from
That collaborative activity is what the Internet has deepened and broadened. It lets us communicate with people all over the world involved in activities emanating from issues and concerns similar to ours. It lets people who are fighting for their rights in a country where such activity can get you jailed or killed talk to people world-wide who can support them. It permits coordination of struggles going on in vastly different environments in far-away countries. It cuts through our media’s lies about other countries with solid truth we learn from people in those countries. It helps unify us and helps us support each other in a rapid, almost immediate, way.
It’s what humanity needs and it’s the reason why the Internet now reaches two billion people.
But if the privacy is taken away, if a government or a corporation can read your email or follow you around as you visit and use websites, your use of the Internet for its most important political purpose becomes stored information that can be used to oppose and repress you.
Privacy, viewed that way, is the litmus test of a free environment. In that context, Google is a monster and the governments that are challenging it on such restricted grounds aren’t much better.
Yes, the progressive response to the European initiative on Google privacy should be to encourage it but with an understanding of its pitfalls and a loud outcry about them. Even if Europe has its way, the outcome will still be an erosion of our privacy and a further empowerment of those who would, in some situations, repress our movements for change.
So right now, those of us who are truly concerned about the future of this society and the world, need to place Internet privacy among our most prominent issues.
Twitter has released its second transparency report, which demonstrated a frightening increase in requests for user data by the US government and ignited serious concerns over privacy and free expression.
The list disclosed data requests from over 30 nations, and revealed that the US government was responsible for 815 of the 1,009 information requests in the second half of 2012 – just over 80 percent of all inquiries.
Twenty percent of all US requests were ‘under seal,’ meaning that users were not notified that their information was accessed.
The overall number of requests worldwide also steadily increased last year, rising from 849 in the January to June 2012 period to 1009 in the July to December 2012 period.
Twitter’s legal policy manager Jeremy Kessel blogged that, “it is vital for us (and other Internet services) to be transparent about government requests for user information.”
“These growing inquiries can have a serious chilling effect on free expression – and real privacy implications,” he wrote.
He went on to express hopes that the publication of the transparency data would be helpful in two ways – “to raise public awareness about these invasive requests,” and “to enable policy makers to make more informed decisions.”
The majority of US requests were subpoenas, which comprised 60 percent of government demands for information. Subpoenas usually seek user information such as email addresses affiliated with accounts and IP logs. A user’s whereabouts can generally be located by the IP address they are using.
Twitter complied with US government requests 69 percent of the time, according to the report.
Twitter released its transparency report on January 28, dubbed ‘Data Privacy Day.’ The US National Cyber Security alliance said it founded the day to “empower people to protect their privacy.”
According to Twitter’s report, several other governments made over 10 requests each for personal information, including Brazil, Canada, France, Japan and the UK. Japan ranked the second-highest on the list after the US; however, the US made 753 more demands for information than Japan.
Google released a statement marking the occasion, saying that the company “[doesn’t] want our services to be used in harmful ways,” and that it is “important that laws protect you against overly broad requests for your personal information.”
Earlier this month, France ruled that Twitter must disclose to authorities the identities of people writing anti-Semitic tweets using the hashtags #UnBonJuif [A Good Jew] and #UnJuifMort [A Dead Jew]. The social networking platform will be fined 1,000 euros a day until it complies.
The publication of the survey came shortly after Google published its own transparency report, which showed a similarly disturbing 25 percent rise in data requests from government authorities. The report also revealed that the US had made the most requests for private information to Google of any government: Over 8,438 in the second half of 2012.
UK-based rights group Privacy International later commented that “Google, Facebook and Twitter are highly vulnerable to government intrusion.”
“I am alarmed by the number of government requests and concerned that so many are done with merely a subpoena,” said John Simpson, a consumer advocate with the California-based group Consumer Watchdog. “A warrant should be required.”
- Twitter Transparency Report v2 (twitter.com)
- Twitter: Government user data requests have risen 20 percent (sott.net)
Google is embroiled in its biggest privacy battle yet in the UK over reportedly tracking users’ online habits. At least 10 UK citizens began legal action with dozens more lining up. According to media estimates up to 10 million Britons could join in.
Google is accused of evading security settings on Apple’s devices and Safari’s web browser in order to keep tabs on people’s online preferences.
This is the first group claim over privacy issues that the tech-giant is facing in the UK, the lawyer behind the action Dan Tench told The Guardian.
“It is particularly concerning how Google circumvented security settings to snoop on its users. One of the things about Google is that it is so ubiquitous in our lives and if that’s its approach, then it’s quite concerning,” Tench said.
On top of that there are plans in the works to launch an umbrella privacy action suit, which could potentially bring in millions of people in the UK.
Google executives reportedly received a letter from two users prior to the launch of legal proceedings.
The tech-giant is being sued for breaches of privacy and confidence, computer misuse and trespass, and breach of the Data Protection Act of 1998.
Claimants want Google to reveal how much data was secretly collected, for how long, and how the information is being used.
The point of the claim is not to make money off Google, but to send a message, argued a privacy campaigner working on the legal claims, Alexander Hanff.
“This lawsuit is about sending a very clear message to corporations that circumventing privacy controls will result in significant consequences. The lawsuit has the potential of costing Google tens of millions, perhaps even breaking 100 million pounds [US$15.7 million] in damages given the potential number of claimants – making it the biggest group action ever launched in the UK,” Hanff says.
Some users responded by creating a Facebook group titled ‘Safari Users against Google’s Secret Tracking’ to gather support for the new claims against Google. The page promises to hold Google responsible for any privacy breaches.
The group was set up “to provide information for anyone who used the Safari internet browser between September 2011 and February 2012, and who was illegally tracked by Google,” reads the group’s statement. “Any users in the UK may have a claim against Google for this breach of their privacy. Other users, who have set up this group, are taking action against Google to hold them to account.”
The page was created only a day ago, but it already garnered over one hundred ‘likes’.
One Facebook user, Vitor Costa, commented on the secrecy aspect behind Google’s privacy breaches, questioning “what they are doing with this information.”
The legal action follows a US ruling that approved a $22.5 million fine to penalize Google for a privacy breach between summer 2011 and spring 2012. The fine resulted after allegations that Google secretly kept tabs on millions of Safari web users, while leading them to believe that their online activities could not be traced as long as they did not change the browser’s privacy settings.
The FTC came to the conclusion that Google’s stealth tracking (which allowed the company to bypass Safari’s settings) contradicted its own privacy assurances.
Google is not new to privacy violation accusations. In the past it faced many allegations such as, keeping tabs on Wi-Fi users with its StreetView cars and privacy failures of the Google’s previous social network, Google Buzz.
Also, European Union lawmakers have been continuing to pressure Google to boost personal security controls and limit the collection of data without users consent.
But new Google services such as Conversations API, which merges offline consumer info with online intelligence, allowing advertisers to target users based on what they do at the keyboard and at the mall, only raise more privacy-based questions.
- Google faces legal action over alleged secret iPhone tracking (guardian.co.uk)
Two Out of Every Three US Demands to Google Come Without A Warrant
This morning, Google released their semi-annual transparency report, and once again, it revealed a troubling trend: Internet surveillance around the world continues to rise, with the United States leading the way in demands for user data.
Google received over 21,000 requests for data on over 33,000 users in the last six months from governments around the world, a 70% increase since Google started releasing numbers in 2010. The United States accounted for almost 40% the total requests (8,438) and the number of users (14,791). The total numbers in the US for 2012 amounted to a 33% increase from 2011. And while Google only complied with two-thirds of the total requests globally, they complied with 88% of the requests in the United States.
Admirably, Google expanded their transparency report this time around, providing more detailed information about what kind of requests they get from the US government—specifically the type of requests they get under the main email privacy law in the US, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA).
EFF has long criticized ECPA for not providing email with the same warrant protection as the Fourth Amendment gives to physical letters and phone calls. The Justice Department believes that it doesn’t need a warrant for emails over 180 days. Google’s lawyers, to their credit, have criticized the law as well, saying just this week, “our view is that [ECPA] is out of compliance with the Fourth Amendment because the government can call for the production of your data without a search warrant.”
European Union lawmakers are hoping to pressure internet giants such as Facebook and Google, to boost personal security controls and limit the collection of data without users consent.
A German MEP has proposed modifications to the 1995 Data Protection Act, suggesting legislation that would limit corporations’ ability to use and sell data, such as browsing habits, especially when users are unaware of the practice.
“Users must be informed about what happens with their data,” said Jan Philipp Albrecht, a German Green Party MEP. “And they must be able to consciously agree to data processing – or reject it.”
EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding noted that she is “glad to see that the European Parliament rapporteurs are supporting the Commission’s aim to strengthen Europe’s data protection rules, which currently date back to 1995 – pre-Internet age.”
“A strong, clear and uniform legal framework will help unleashing the potential of the Digital Single Market and foster economic growth, innovation and job creation in Europe,” she added.
The report by the German MEP adds to a proposal for tougher data protection announced by the European Commission last January. The European Parliament, the European Commission and the bloc’s 27 nations say they will seek an agreement on the rules in the coming months.
Google and Facebook – who were among the first corporations to profit from user data – have been lobbying against any such moves in the European Union. The Internet goliaths have warned legislators that such laws may hamper innovation and harm business.
“We are concerned that some aspects of the report do not support a flourishing European digital single market and the reality of innovation on the Internet,” Erika Mann, head of EU policy for Facebook, said.
Meanwhile, the Industry Coalition for Data Protection, an ICT lobby group, stated that Albrecht had “missed an opportunity to reconcile effective privacy safeguards with rules protecting the conduct of business — both fundamental rights under the EU charter.”
The European Union frequently raises the issue of privacy controls, causing standoffs with major American corporations.
In September, in another standoff over privacy issues, Facebook was forced to remove its facial recognition software from the social network in Europe in order to comply with European data protection laws. This followed an investigation by the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner in Ireland.
- Facebook, Google May Face More Data-Use Limits, EU Lawmaker Says (bloomberg.com)
- EU Seeks More Privacy Pressure On Google, Facebook (eurasiareview.com)
- Facebook and Google may be forced to ask permission to use personal data (guardian.co.uk)
Speak2Tweet: Google & Twitter Partner Up with US State Dept. to Monopolise Information Flow Out of Syria
Amid Internet and telephone network outages in Syria, US-trained opposition activists are using US-supplied satellite phones to contact Google & Twitter’s ‘Speak2Tweet‘ service. Despite these efforts, the service seems so far to be a resounding failure.
Internet and telecommunications networks have been failing across Syria, leading some including Tony Cartalucci to speculate that NATO may be preparing a psychological warfare operation(1) to bolster the flagging unconventional war against Syria.
Recent developments add weight to this theory. There are now reports(2) that Google and Twitter have re-launched their ‘Speak2Tweet’(3) service to ostensibly aid isolated Syrians affected by the communication network outages.
This is reminiscent of Iran’s CIA-sponsored(4) ‘Green Revolution‘ in 2009 wherein Twitter followed White House instructions(5) to delay its scheduled maintenance, in order to provide continued service to Iran’s Green opposition. If this event hinted at Twitter’s possible status as being a CIA tool in this respect, today’s events should leave little doubt.
‘Speak2Tweet‘ is a communication service which allows the user to dial a conventional telephone number and leave a voice message which is then posted to https://twitter.com/speak2tweet where web users can listen. Speak2Tweet was first launched during Egypt’s January 25th ‘revolution’ back in 2011.
At this important time for Google, Hillary Clinton offered an interesting tidbit yesterday. While giving an especially servile, fawning speech at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy’s Opening Gala Dinner in Washington D.C, she quoted Google’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt(6) who recently called Israel, “the most important high tech center in the world, after the United States.” I will leave it to the reader to decide whether this suggests a central Israeli role in Google’s recent ventures.
After interviewing Google’s Christine Chen, Al Arabiya tellingly reported:(3) “Although phone connections are also are suspended, some Syrians were able to call and get through.”
This begs the question: if Internet and telecommunications networks have been failing across Syria, how does the opposition manage to communicate using Speak2Tweet, which requires the user to call an international telephone number (using either a mobile telephone or landline)?
US State Department provided Syrian opposition activists with satellite communications equipment and training
Ever since August 2012 Syrian opposition activists have been travelling to Istanbul, Turkey, to receive satellite communications equipment and training from the U.S. State Department.(7) The UK Telegraph reported in August 2012 that the US State Department’s Office of Syrian Opposition Support (OSOS) was overseeing this scheme, with $25 million reportedly being set aside for the project, and a further $5 million coming from Britain.
According to ForeignPolicy.com(8) the activists are all ‘given a satellite phone and computer‘ at the end of their training, and they are expected to return to Syria.
It is important to note at this point that satellite telephony is not affected by Internet and telecommunications network outages, and indeed satellite telephones allow users to call any conventional telephone number. In fact satellite phones are often used in warzones and in areas affected by natural disasters, as terrestrial cell antennas and networks are often damaged and non-operational in such cases.
In view of this it is highly likely as many have posited, that the country-wide communications outages were engineered by the NATO-GCC axis, with a view to allowing the opposition activists to monopolise the information flow using the satellite equipment and training given to them by the U.S. State Department. It should be noted that Google has been involved in training ‘Arab Spring’ opposition activists(9) through its partnership with the US State Department’s Movement.org.
The voice messages that are posted to the service can be listened to online at: https://twitter.com/speak2tweet. After listening to a sample of the messages, at this point in time the service seems to be a resounding failure insofar as the NATO-GCC axis is concerned. Messages range from merely “Allahu Akbar“, to garbled nonsense, and they do nothing to bolster the ongoing propaganda campaign against the Syrian regime. Furthermore, the Speak2Tweet service has most definitely not ‘made waves’ online, with many web users not even being aware of its existence.
Though many of the Speak2Tweet audio messages seem to be coming from people outside Syria, it is eminently clear that the US State Department intended their activist-proxies whom they had trained and supplied with satellite telephones in Istanbul, to be the only people within Syria able to use the service.
As with all aspects of the now struggling NATO-GCC unconventional war against sovereign Syria, this too seems to have been an embarrassing failure and a waste of time and money.
(1) ‘URGENT: NATO Preparing Psy-Op in Syria’ by Tony Cartalucci.
(2) ‘Google reactivates Speak2Tweet for Syrian Internet cutoff’ – CNET.com, November 30, 2012.
(3) ‘Google and Twitter re-launch ‘Speak2Tweet’ to aid isolated Syrians’ – Al Arabiya, Saturday, 01 December 2012.
(4) ‘Color revolution fails in Iran’ by Thierry Meyssan
(5) ‘US confirms it asked Twitter to stay open to help Iran protesters’ – The Guardian, Wednesday 17 June 2009.
(6) ‘Remarks at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy 2012 Saban Forum Opening Gala Dinner’ – U.S. State Department
(7) ‘Britain and US plan a Syrian revolution from an innocuous office block in Istanbul’ – The Telegraph, 26 Aug 2012.
(8) ‘Holding Civil Society Workshops While Syria Burns’ – ForeignPolicy.com, OCTOBER 10, 2012.
(9) ‘Google’s Revolution Factory’ by Tony Cartalucci.
How many times have you used Wikipedia when trying to find out the basic facts surrounding an unfamiliar event or topic? How many times has Wikipedia been your first port of call? When one seeks information online relating to a divisive, confusing, or hotly debated topic, nine times out of ten the first port of call will be a search engine, most likely Google. As a result (as we will see), the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, now a household name, has become the chief first source of information for a huge majority of people.
Though Google and other search engines are very useful and powerful tools for finding information, one must employ extreme care. Due to the nature of search engines such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo, Internet users must be very wary of censorship by way of result ordering and filtering. Furthermore, the popularity of a website can result in it being listed higher than other sources even when they are more relevant and reliable.
The search engine specialist comScore’s January 2012 report spells out the search engine ‘market’ in the United States. In terms of the US online search market, the leaders are Google (with 66.2% share of search queries performed), Bing (with 15.2%), and Yahoo (with 14.1%). Ask and AOL are in distant fourth and fifth places with 3% and 1.6% respectively.
To illustrate a problem inherent with the way these search engines serve us information, let’s consider the example of the 2011 war on Libya, using the top three search engines – which cumulatively monopolise 95.5% of all search queries performed in the United States.
Visit Google, Bing, and Yahoo, and search for the term “2011 Libya war”, or “Libyan civil war.” Go on – try it now. What do you notice? At the time of writing, in all cases the first result is the Wikipedia article for the ‘Libyan civil war’ (read: the decimation of Libya by belligerent foreign powers). All of these search engines serve Wikipedia to us as the first source of information – thrust in our faces at the top of the results page.
Since Wikipedia can be edited by anybody (and anonymously at that), it is fundamentally flawed as a source of reliable information. Making matters worse, organised groups have mobilised in order to systematically manipulate the information published on Wikipedia. [...]
The deception begins with the article’s title, which characterises the war as the ‘Libyan civil war (also referred to as the Libyan revolution.’ Readers are immediately misled as the war on Libya is framed as an indigenous ‘civil war’ between Libyan groups. In the opening paragraph, NATO powers are deceptively referred to as “those seeking to oust [Muammar Gaddafi's] government.” This is pure fantasy meant to uphold the mythical ‘humanitarian intervention’ narrative. The supposedly indigenous ‘uprising’ was a foreign import in every respect. Libyan opposition groups wholly controlled by and headquartered in London and Washington, planned the February 17 ‘Day of Rage’ from their comfortable positions in exile long before the war on Libya. Though it can be argued that Muammar Gaddafi was somewhat unpopular in parts of the east of Libya, there was no broad popular movement to overthrow the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya – instead only small armed groups with arms coming from the Gulf dictatorships, with the support of NATO powers.
An armed insurrection began as these armed groups attacked policemen and soldiers, stormed arms caches, and sowed terror across Libya. This operation was mounted by NATO-aligned al-Qaeda mercenaries and NATO special forces contingents. The entire global mainstream media circulated unfounded atrocity propaganda and stories about the Feb17 ‘protests’ being attacked by the Libyan army, and global public indignation was channeled into justifying the war. In reality what was referred to as ‘protests‘ was actually this armed insurrection carried out by ‘rebel forces.’ And ‘Rebel forces’ here is Orwellian code language which euphemistically refers to a number of parties: al Qaeda affiliated elements, extremist terrorists, mercenaries bankrolled by NATO and using NATO weaponry, as well as NATO special forces themselves. Wikipedia puts forth a romantic narrative of the ‘rebels’ being the driving force behind the war:
The Gaddafi government then announced a ceasefire, but failed to uphold it, though it then accused rebels of violating the ceasefire when they continued to fight as well. Throughout the conflict, rebels rejected government offers of a ceasefire.
In August, rebel forces began a coastal offensive, taking back territory lost weeks before and ultimately capturing the capital city of Tripoli, while Gaddafi evaded capture and loyalists engaged in a rearguard campaign.
Though popular wisdom indeed says that the ‘rebels’ were the chief actor in the so-called ‘revolution’, and that they single-handedly achieved all of their strategic and military objectives, truth holds that the ‘revolution’, the war, was a NATO operation at its very core. Months of relentless and deadly bombing (with over 26,500 air sorties flown) by NATO warplanes and gunships eliminated any ground opposition to the ‘rebels’, while special forces from the British SAS, the CIA, and even Qatari regulars fought the ground war, coordinating airstrikes from the ground. Even the taking of Tripoli in August – which Wikipedia touts as a ‘rebel’ gain – was a NATO operation at its very genesis – largely carried out by Qatari troops supported by NATO aircraft.
The ground aspect of the war was led by foreign troops present on the ground in Libya from the war’s very advent. SAS forces, CIA spies, and thousands of Qatari troops led the charge and coordinated the so-called rebels’ every move. The ‘rebels’ were nothing more than a media show, and the Wikipedia article seeks to paint a romantic picture:
The rebels are composed primarily of civilians, such as teachers, students, lawyers, and oil workers, and a contingent of professional soldiers that defected from the Libyan Army and joined the rebels.
This emotive hogwash constitutes one of the many myths of the Libya War. It will come as no surprise then, to learn that Wikipedia’s sole source for this information is an Israel-based journalist who started her career with the BBC World Service and Voice of America – the official propaganda arm of the U.S. Government. Her article referenced by Wikipedia constitutes an emotive plea for war, and was published mere days before NATO bombs began to fall. These are the types of pro-empire, pro-war, pro-Zionist sources that uphold the narrative published on Wikipedia, and it is surely no surprise whatsoever.
Interestingly, the Wikipedia article for the Libya War admits that the Libyan government was facing an armed insurrection:
Protests took place in Benghazi, Ajdabiya, Derna, Zintan, and Bayda. Libyan security forces fired live ammunition into the armed protests
The article uses deception and Orwellian language to refer to the insurrection, however, using the term, ‘armed protests.’ Identical language has characterised mainstream reporting on the Syria War – which operationally is a carbon copy of the Libya War: an example of fourth generation warfare carried out by belligerent foreign interests, coupled with a deceptive media war intended to paint the events as an indigenous, popular revolution.
Fantastical casualty figures were invented by the likes of the BBC who provided zero evidence, and only nameless ‘eyewitness accounts’ in sensational and dramatic language. Reminiscent of the utterly invented ‘incubator babies’ propaganda from the Iraq war, the Wikipedia article claims that Gaddafi’s troops ‘stormed hospitals,’ executed patients, and removed other patients from their drips and monitoring equipment. The sources for these grand claims? One is the BBC article which offers no evidence whatsoever, other than an account from an anonymous hospital worker, and the other is a News 24 article which cites Sliman Bouchuiguir, head of the Libyan branch of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) – based in Switzerland. Staying true to Wikipedia’s aversion to the facts, these sources are of the most spurious nature possible.
Sliman Bouchuiguir was exposed as a habitual liar by Julien Teil’s stellar documentary Humanitarian War. The must-see video reveals how NATO-appointed NTC officials and the FIDH invented dramatic stories of atrocities being committed by Gaddafi, and concocted casualty figures from thin air. When challenged to provide verification of the claims of massacres by Gaddafi’s forces, Bouchuiguir could not provide any proof. Another crucial point that is revealed in the documentary is the baseless nature of the ICC case against Gaddafi; the vast majority of the alleged evidence was redacted from the public report, and mainstream media reports constituted a great deal of the sources for the alleged atrocities.
Even more significantly, the FIDH is known to be tied to the Israel lobby in France, and is closely linked to the Zionist ‘democracy promotion’ group the National Endowment for Democracy. Furthermore, the FIDH is closely linked to UN Watch – the Zionist lobby group that played a central role in pushing for the war on Libya – whereby they wrote letters to the US, EU, and UN, repeating the massacre fantasies that they themselves had concocted. Needless to say, Sliman Bouchuiguir was the second signatory to these letters, amongst 90 other NGO/individual co-signers.
Wikipedia’s chronicle of events in Libya repeats these verified lies as fact, and unashamedly references the aforementioned liars as its sources.
Once the fraudulent humanitarian narrative had been established, the ensuing war and genocidal decimation of Libya began. It was carried out entirely by foreign powers who fought a deadly ground and air war using, as I have discussed, foreign special forces and soldiers, jet fighters, helicopter gunships, and naval craft. Tomahawk missiles, cluster bombs, and Brimstone missiles rained down on Libyan targets as depleted uranium was scattered all over the country, contaminating the environment and water supply. British SAS forces coordinated ‘rebel’ movements and called in airstrikes from the ground as the whole world bought the idea that the rag-tag ‘rebels’ were calling the shots, and the ‘revolution’ was a popular movement spearheaded by Libyans. The notoriously incompetent ‘rebels,’ being nothing more than a media spectacle for Western eyes and ears, were also commanded and supported on the ground by the CIA, as well as thousands of Qatari troops. On the 26th October 2011, Qatari chief of staff Major General Hamad bin Ali Al-Atiya arrogantly admitted the presence of his troops in Libya: “We were among them and the numbers of Qataris on the ground were hundreds in every region.”
The ‘Mercenaries’ Myth: a Catalyst for the Division of Arabs and Africans
Revolutionary Leader of the Great Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Muammar Gaddafi, was a champion of pan-African unity. Merely two months before his people were brutally attacked by international criminals masquerading as the “international community”, he had pledged $90 billion to the unification of Africa and its resistance to colonial infiltration and aggression (note: this information will not be found on Wikipedia).
The cruel, criminal, and genocidal attack on Libya is a not only an attempt to abort Arab-African unity (a central tenet of Israel’s ‘Yinon plan’), but it is a microcosm of what is designed for Africa and the Middle East as a whole. We are seeing this wider strategy play out all over Africa, from Libya to Sudan, and from Nigeria to Egypt. This strategy aims to force Christians and Muslims, black Africans and Arabs, to live in their own sectarian enclaves out of fear for their own lives. This strategy has cleansed Christians from Iraq – achieved by a sustained and devilish campaign of Mossad black ops and false flag bombings.
During the war on Libya, a seed was planted with the intention of furthering this nefarious agenda in Libya. As a result, innocent blacks were lynched, beaten, imprisoned, murdered and decapitated in hate-fuelled attacks all over the country. A principle cause of this venomous hatred towards Libya’s black African population (who before the war constituted a third of Libya’s total population) was the myth that Gaddafi had hired African mercenaries to put down ‘protests.’
The Wikipedia article devotes eight paragraphs to these spurious allegations, supported by reports from pro-war, pro-Zionist, state-organ media outlets such as CNN, Al Jazeera, ABC, Time magazine, and the Washington Post. The sources used here, which form the backbone of Wikipedia’s ‘mercenaries’ claim, are of such laughably spurious nature that they deserve closer inspection.
One of these sources is a series of anonymous text messages purportedly sent by an unnamed ‘Libyan economist’! Another of Wikipedia’s sources herein is a report from ‘Save the Children,’ based on nothing but pure hearsay, claiming that Gaddafi’s forces had raped children as young as eight. Another source mentions admittedly “not yet confirmed” reports, and claims that mercenaries were offered $12,000 to $30,000 each. Amongst the sources used for this article are tweets from a US NGO named Democratic Underground. This source touts information from a spokesman of the Libyan League for Human Rights (LLHR) – a propaganda mill established and run by the aforementioned compulsive liar Sliman Bouchuiguir. The LLHR is affiliated to the FIDH, which is intimately linked to the Zionist National Endowment for Democracy.
Upon the most cursory inspection Wikipedia’s sources, and therefore its narrative, disintegrates like a house of cards in a hurricane.
At this stage it is important to note that even Amnesty International – responsible for spreading much of the atrocity propaganda in the first place – has gone on record to say that there is no evidence for these allegations, nor is there any evidence for the claims that Gaddafi’s forces were using rape as a weapon of war. The Wikipedia article fleetingly acknowledges the fact that there is no evidence for the mercenaries claim, albeit after its eight-paragraph sales pitch:
In June 2011, Amnesty International said it found no evidence of foreign mercenaries being used, saying the black Africans claimed to be “mercenaries” were in fact “sub-Saharan migrants working in Libya,” and described the use of mercenaries as a “myth” that “inflamed public opinion” and led to lynchings and executions of black Africans by rebel forces.
Needless to say, the damage has already been done as Libyans of black African descent are fleeing their homeland in droves. This strategy of division is termed by Mahdi Nazemroaya as “an attempt to separate the merging point of an Arab and African identity“, and it is a strategy which is planned for the entire Arab and Muslim world. It is a strategy which Nicolas Sarkozy – key mover behind the Libya war – even offered his support to; it was reported in October 2011 that Patriarch Mar Beshara Boutros Al-Rahi – head of the Maronite Catholic Syriac Church of Antioch (the largest of the autonomous Eastern Catholic Churches) – met with Sarkozy in Paris. During this meeting Sarkozy told Sheikh Al-Rahi that the Syrian regime will collapse, and that the Christian communities of the Levant and Middle East can resettle in the European Union.
As imperialist powers supported by a network of so-called human rights groups deliberately create the conditions of danger, instability and fear for specific ethnic, religious, and racial groups in the Middle East and North Africa, they also are providing the means to move them out of their native homelands, effecting the segregation and division of such groups permanently. The vicious attack on Libya is merely a beginning to this renewed strategy to divide, pulverise and weaken Africa. The Israeli-prescribed division of Sudan is a case in point.
Instead of shedding light on this destructive and deadly strategy, Wikipedia, marching in lockstep with the controlled media, merely perpetuates the myths that enable it. More than ever, this underscores the desperate need for us to seek out information from other, more independent sources.
Conclusion: Wikipedia is Written by the Victor
Not only is Wikipedia merely a representation of the ‘official’ narrative for important events such as the War on Libya, but it is served to us as the first result by all major search engines (cumulatively having a 95.5% market share of search queries in the United States).
Even more worryingly, you will see the exact same behaviour if you enter other search terms such as “the Holocaust,” “9/11,” or “Syrian uprising.” Give it a try right now.
Being presented as the first search result for these important topics (and a myriad more – simply visit these search engines and try as many different topics as you like), Wikipedia demonstrably has a monopoly on information exposure, and has the chance to set its narrative in information-hungry minds. Millions of Internet users are literally being fed a pack of lies as soon as they initiate their search for information.
Deaths and casualties constitute without a doubt, the most important human aspect of any and all wars. With this in mind, let us type “libya war deaths,” or “estimates of libya war casualties” into any of the aforementioned search engines. Go ahead – do it now. Surprise, surprise, we are presented – in all cases – with the Wikipedia article for ‘Casualties of the Libyan civil war.’ What we see are gross underestimations of the deaths caused by a protracted, deadly, and sustained bombing campaign carried out by the world’s most powerful militaries. In addition to this, every single source used here – without exception – is globalist and pro-war in nature:
- The NED-linked International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and Libyan League for Human Rights (LLHR);
- The World Health Organisation;
- The UN Human Rights Council;
- Al Jazeera English (Qatari-owned and run cheerleader of the Libya war, co-created by Libyan NTC Quisling Mahmoud Jibril);
- The National Transitional Council (NATO’s council of stooges);
How can we expect the masses to gain even a basic geopolitical understanding of anything when Wikipedia is thrust in our faces during practically every Internet search we do? Wikipedia verily is nothing more than a black and white representation of the ‘official narrative’ of the war on Libya, and the same can be said for other highly-propagandised events such as the so-called Syrian uprising, the false flag terror attacks of 9/11, and the ‘Holocaust.’
Wikipedia is the very manifestation of the old African adage ‘until the lion can write his own story, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.’ The disinformation presented on Wikipedia is nothing short of criminal. We must always check the sources for the information we consume, and for all matters political, we must look upon Wikipedia with the same utter contempt that we do with all controlled media.
- Libya, Africa and Africom (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Gaddafi Libya and the NWO – darkgrape. (libyaagainstsuperpowermedia.com)
- They found no fault in Qaddafi so the media invented some for us (libyaagainstsuperpowermedia.com)
- Google’s Love Affair with Wikipedia Far More Serious Than Bing’s [Study] (conductor.com)
- Wikipedia down? Try these alternatives (ghacks.net)
Google is making a big change to how it displays results in its dominant search engine. It is rolling out a new feature called the Knowledge Graph which breaks from the traditional practice of matching keywords with webpages.
According to an article on Blog Tips about Google’s Knowledge Graph, immediate answers or “facts” from pre-selected sources like the CIA Factbook, Wikipedia, and the World Bank will be provided in search results along side the organic results:
Instead of using the typical search strength of a particular answer, this new feature will draw ‘facts’ from places like Wikipedia for historical information, CIA World Factbook for geopolitical answers, the World Bank for economic facts, Freebase for information about people and other predetermined sources.
This move by Google seems eerily similar to Orwell’s Ministry of Truth in that search results, or “answers and facts”, will no longer be gathered based on the algorithmic popularity of content, but rather selected by Google.
Sure, most would argue that Wikipedia does a pretty good job through its open-source format to nail down basic facts. However, the CIA and the World Bank are organizations with agendas sometimes counter to the truth, and making them the authority on facts gives them tremendous power to shape public knowledge.
Google also explains how it will collect data on you using the Knowledge Graph:
Google-owned Freebase will also be used in the Google Knowledge Graph. Freebase is a massive database, which according to Singularity Hub already “has data on over 24 million people, places, and things.”
Google then combines its Freebase with Metaweb algorithms to connect everything and everyone. For the purposes of improving searches, this may be wonderful, but it’s the exact type of software that can easily build and organize a profile on all Internet users.
Watch how they’re already connecting your data points below:
So besides relying on the CIA and the World Bank to force feed Internet users “facts”, they will also construct and display how each person appears in these new searches.
Google bosses were informed their Street View cars would collect e-mails, names, addresses and other personal data from Wi-Fi users around the world, a government report shows. But the company insists the message didn’t get through.
Neither a mistake nor the work of an unauthorized engineer was behind Google’s massive harvesting of Wi-Fi communications that included e-mails, passwords and other sensitive personal information across three continents in 2007-2010, indicates the recent report filed by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
The supervisors of the Street View program were well aware Google cars would go beyond photographing streetscapes. Or at least they should have been.
On Saturday, the web giant releases their own version of report – with employees’ names blacked out. An earlier version provided by the FCC had whole blocks of text blacked out.
The search giant said it wanted a more transparent version to be shown to the public as evidence that any wrongdoing by the company was inadvertent. Apparently, the company wants to avoid speculation over what could have been withheld from the initial release and thus limit any damage.
The report confirms Google’s engineer behind the data-collecting software voluntarily embarked on a project to gather personal e-mails and Web searches of potentially hundreds of millions of people. Identified as Engineer Doe, the individual declined to speak to the FCC, invoking Fifth Amendment rights, which protects citizens from being compelled to testify against themselves.
The design document prepared by Engineer Doe clearly shows his intention to collect payload data in addition to taking panoramic snapshots, as Google’s cars drove by. The private data would “be analyzed offline for use in other initiatives,” like finding how well Google’s other services are used, the document said.
Privacy consideration did come to his mind. “A typical concern might be that we are logging user traffic along with sufficient data to precisely triangulate their position at a given time, along with information about what they were doing,” the document says.
Engineer Doe decided that no harm will be done because Google’s data harvesters would not remain in the vicinity of any particular Wi-Fi user for “an extended period of time.” Nevertheless he added the following “to do” item: “Discuss privacy considerations with Product Counsel.”
“That never occurred,” the FCC report says.
The employee also “specifically told two engineers working on the project, including a senior manager, about collecting payload data.” It actually appears that at least seven Street View engineers had “wide access” to the plan to collect payload data back in 2007.
Engineer Doe’s code was used to collect some 200 gigabytes of payload data across the US between January 2008 and April 2010. Similar logging of private data happened across the world, which made Google the butt of investigations by respective authorities.
The report further cites a number of other people involved in the project as failing to recall knowing that collecting of payload data was happening at the time. Those include an engineer, whose job was reviewing Engineer Doe’s code line by line for bugs and a senior manager, who said he pre-approved the man’s document before it was written.
Following the investigation the FCC fined Google $25,000 for obstructing its investigation, including withholding an email, that openly discussed the engineer’s review of payload data with a senior manager on the Street view project.
It ruled that since the payload data collected was not encrypted, the act didn’t violate American wiretapping law, but said it has “significant factual questions” about why this ever happened.
Google denied stonewalling the probe and blamed the FCC for any delays.
- Google staffers knew Street View cars collected private data (digitaltrends.com)
The world is a mysterious place.
Regina Dugan, the director of the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) is quitting her Pentagon funded post at the agency — trading it for a ‘senior executive’ position with internet giant Google.
It makes you wonder just how big and powerful Google is getting, and what are they actually into.
According to Donald Melanson;
The company (Google) has just reported $8.58 billion in gross revenue for the first quarter of 2011, which represents a 27 percent increase over the first quarter of last year, but is actually a bit less than analysts were expecting. That figure also doesn’t include the company’s so-called traffic acquisition costs, however, which totaled $2.04 billion for the quarter and bring the company’s actual revenue down to “just” $6.54 billion. Net income for the quarter was $2.3 billion, which represents a more modest gain from $1.96 billion in the first quarter of 2010. Also cutting into profits quite a bit was Google’s operating expenses, which were up a hefty 33 percent to $2.8 billion — a sizable chunk of which went to the nearly 2,000 new employees the company hired during the quarter.
That’s a pretty hefty take, must be nice.
A Wired excerpt reads;
Dugan’s emphasis on cybersecurity and next-generation manufacturing earned her strong support from the White House, winning her praise from the President and maintaining the agency’s budget even during a period of relative austerity at the Pentagon. Her push into crowdsourcing and outreach to the hacker community were eye-openers in the often-closed world of military R&D. Dugan also won over some military commanders by diverting some of her research cash from long-term, blue-sky projects to immediate battlefield concerns.
“There is a time and a place for daydreaming. But it is not at Darpa,” she told a congressional panel in March 2011 (.pdf). “Darpa is not the place of dreamlike musings or fantasies, not a place for self-indulging in wishes and hopes. Darpa is a place of doing.” For an agency that spent millions of dollars on shape-shifting robots, Mach 20 missiles, and mind-controlled limbs, it was something of a revolutionary statement.
The shift was only one of the reasons why Dugan was a highly polarizing figure within her agency, and in the larger defense research community. The Pentagon’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) is alsoactively investigating hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of contracts that Darpa gave out to RedX Defense — a bomb-detection firm that Dugan co-founded, and still partially owns. A separate audit is examining a sample of the 2,000 other research contracts Darpa has signed during Dugan’s tenure, to “determine the adequacy of Darpa’s selection, award, and administration of contracts and grants,” according to a military memorandum.
Results of the Inspector General’s work haven’t been released and, according to her spokesman, the work had “no impact” on Dugan’s decision, “The only reason she decided to leave the Pentagon was the allure of working at Google.”
So what will Dugan really be working on for Google? Only time will tell.
Throughout history, there have been a number of reasons why individuals have taken to writing or producing art under a pseudonym. In the 18th century, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay took on the pseudonym Publius to publish The Federalist Papers. In 19th century England, pseudonyms allowed women–like the Brontë sisters, who initially published under Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell–to be taken seriously as writers.
Today, pseudonyms continue to serve a range of individuals, and for a variety of reasons. At EFF, we view anonymity as both a matter of free speech and privacy, but in light of International Privacy Day, January 28, this piece will focus mainly on the latter, looking at the ways in which the right to anonymity–or pseudonymity–is truly a matter of privacy.
Privacy from employers
Human beings are complex creatures with multiple interests. As such, many professionals use pseudonyms online to keep their employment separate from their personal life. One example of this is the Guardian columnist GrrlScientist who, upon discovering her Google+ account had been deleted for violating their “common name” policy, penned a piece explaining her need for privacy. Another example is prominent Moroccan blogger Hisham Khribchi, who has explained his use of a pseudonym, stating:
When I first started blogging I wanted my identity to remain secret because I didn’t want my online activity to interfere with my professional life. I wanted to keep both as separate as possible. I also wanted to use a fake name because I wrote about politics and I was critical of my own government. A pseudonym would shield me and my family from personal attacks. I wanted to have a comfortable space to express myself freely without having to worry about the police when I visit my family back in Morocco.
Though Khribchi’s reasoning is two-fold, his primary concern–even stronger than his need for protection from his government–was keeping his online life separate from his employment.
Privacy from the political scene
In 2008, an Alaskan blogger known as “Alaska Muckraker” (or AKM) rose to fame for her vocal criticism of fellow Alaskan and then-McCain-running-mate Sarah Palin. Later, after inveighing against a rude email sent to constituents by Alaska State Representative Mike Doogan, AKM was outed–by Doogan–who wrote that his “own theory about the public process is you can say what you want, as long as you are willing to stand behind it using your real name.”
AKM, a blogger decidedly committing an act of journalism, could have had any number of reasons to remain anonymous. As she later wrote:
I might be a state employee. I might not want my children to get grief at school. I might be fleeing from an ex-partner who was abusive and would rather he not know where I am. My family might not want to talk to me anymore. I might alienate my best friend. Maybe I don’t feel like having a brick thrown through my window. My spouse might work for the Palin administration. Maybe I’d just rather people not know where I live or where I work. Or none of those things may be true. None of my readers, nor Mike Doogan had any idea what my personal circumstances might be.
Though Doogan claimed that AKM gave up her right to anonymity when her blog began influencing public policy, he’s wrong. In the United States, the right to anonymity is protected by the First Amendment and must remain so, to ensure both the free expression and privacy rights of citizens.
Similarly, in 2009, Ed Whelans, a former official with the Department of Justice, outed anonymous blogger John Blevins–a professor at the South Texas College of Law–in the National Review, calling him “irresponsible”, and a “coward.” Blevins took the fall gracefully, later explaining why he had chosen to blog under a pseudonym. Like Khribchi, Blevins’ reasons were numerous: He feared losing tenure and legal clients, but he also feared putting the jobs of family members in the political space at risk.
Privacy from the public eye
A friend of mine–let’s call him Joe–is the sibling of a famous celebrity. But while he’s very proud of his sibling, Joe learned early on that not everyone has his best interests at heart. Therefore, Joe devised a pseudonym to use online in order to protect the privacy of himself and his family.
In Joe’s case, the threat is very real: celebrities are regularly stalked, their houses broken into. His pseudonym keeps him feeling “normal” in his online interactions, while simultaneously protecting his sibling and the rest of his family from invasions of privacy.
Achieving anonymity online
Anonymity and pseudonymity may seem increasingly difficult to achieve online. Not only do companies like Facebook restrict your right to use a pseudonym, but even when you do think you’re anonymous, you might not be–as blogger Rosemary Port found out in 2009 after Google turned over her name in response to a court order.
While we should continue to fight for our privacy under the law, the best thing we can do as users to who value our right to anonymity is to use tools like Tor. Anonymous bloggers can use Global Voices Advocacy’s online guide to blogging anonymously with WordPress and Tor. And all Internet users should educate themselves about what is–and isn’t–private on their online accounts and profiles.
- International Privacy Day: Fighting Data Retention Mandates Around the World (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Google And Privacy: Nothing To See Here, Move On (informationweek.com)
- Google shifts stance on Google+ anonymity, will support pseudonyms (arstechnica.com)
- Google Says Bye Bye to User Privacy (forbes.com)
- Google+ relaxes real-name policy, allows pseudonyms (plus.google.com)