by Andrew Orlowski
Thursday, 11
November 2021
Debate
11:21

Sorry, but Google is not the GDR

Internet privacy activists have been captured by their own paranoia
by Andrew Orlowski
This sign will make Google change its ways! (Photo By Lea Suzuki/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)

On Wednesday, the UK’s Supreme Court threw out a speculative class action suit brought by the former Director of consumer organisation Which?, Richard Lloyd. The decision halted, for now, a further Americanisation of our legal system that would have made such speculative suits easier. These suits are burgeoning in Europe.

With the bluntness of a playground bully, Lloyd’s “Google You Owe Us campaign sought damages which may have yielded iPhone owners a £750 jackpot — the price of a new iPhone — and cost Google around £3 billion. The Court reiterated that to bring such an action in the UK requires proof of harm, rather than a mere breach of contract, and Lloyd had offered none.

The question is why Lloyd thought this was worth a punt — and the answer lies in an increasing hysterical debate over internet privacy. Over a period of several months, a decade ago, Google had found a way of tracking users through the iPhone’s web browser, Safari, without their consent. Undoubtedly sneaky, but where was the personal injury? Perhaps the word beloved by campaigners and Lloyd, “surveillance” may be part of the problem.

Over two decades, European data protection law has been driven by the Germans, many of whom in their lifetimes experienced the comprehensive and systematic monitoring apparatus of a police state, the DDR. The consequences were chilling for speech, ruining careers, and leading to imprisonment or death. Campaigners now draw a moral equivalence between consumer data collection and STASI surveillance — but is the aggregation of spending or browsing information by a company really the same as the blanket oppression of life in a Communist state?

One who thought it might be was an Austrian, Max Schrems, who brought a landmark case which halted data flows between the EU and the USA in 2015, persuading the European Court of Justice that data was not safe once on American soil, because of its national security taps. He succeeded in sinking its successor last year. Another is academic Shoshana Zuboff, whose 2019 business potboiler Surveillance Capitalism took the equivalence into the mainstream.

But there’s a problem. Many of us opt-into such “surveillance schemes” such as Nectar and supermarket clubcards. When we use them, we’re tracked constantly, in return for goods or offers. The internet differs only in being less transparent.

Now the burgeoning privacy industry regards anyone who objects to the moral equivalence as a great big softie (while, curiously, dismissing the individual ownership of one’s data as equally oppressive). Rather like Extinction Rebellion these activists are prisoners of their own linguistic inflation. Just as the characterisation of climate change as a “crisis” or an “emergency” requires exceptional and potentially harmful mitigation responses, framing data collection as totalitarianism requires a constantly paranoid mindset which shuns human agency, and rejects political solutions. Both are an intellectual cul-de-sac from which it is difficult to escape.

This isn’t to excuse Google and Facebook, a duopoly who often have power equivalent to nation states. As individuals, we want more control, and we should be able to negotiate a price for our personal data, especially if it’s valuable — something we cannot currently do. But little constructive come from the current equivalence of data processing and totalitarianism. To correct the former Intel CEO Andy Grove, who popularised the phrase “Only the paranoid the survive”, the paranoid merely stay paranoid.

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Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
10 months ago

To be honest, I was not that concerned about Google and whether they had to pay out billions, I was mainly concerned about the use of this “class action” concept, I really don’t want it in Britain.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
10 months ago

Agreed. The class action concept rolls up potentially genuine claims which could be brought on their own with a vast number of purely speculative claims. The enormous payouts on dubious asbestosis claims brought in the US nearly bankrupted many Lloyds names and led to the corporatisation of the Lloyds Reinsurance market. The threat of such proceedings constitutes a form of blackmail and merely increases the cost of doing business as a result of increased insurance charges.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
10 months ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

freedom does add to the cost of doing business, so lets get rid of freedom, and everything will be cheaper,,,,yaaa

Like Freedom was getting in the way of safty so it was gotten rid of with covid, is still now gotten rid of for mandates – EXCEPT… the lockdowns did not increase safety, Sweden, Florida, Texas, did better than the Lockdown places – so really you gave up freedom for worse outcomes…yaaa

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
10 months ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

I get it – you don’t like lockdowns, you have made that abundantly clear on this site, but what has any of this to do with the article or what Mr. Bray has posted?

Last edited 10 months ago by Linda Hutchinson
Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
10 months ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Let’s just define the word ‘freedom’ in whichever way you want. Is it a fundamental freedom, to insist on the possibility of class action lawsuits? The US and UK have different systems, in my view the UK one with its scepticism about suing and huge damages is better. How ironic that you support the US approach of over litigating issues. This has done more to reduce practical freedoms in many areas than almost anything else!

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
10 months ago

“I was mainly concerned about the”

So that some strong group can do what us individuals cannot is something you wish to stop?

This writer is out to get your sort to block any ability to call the Elites and Plutocrats out. YOU can do nothing against them, individually none of us can – our votes cannot even do anything as the Politicos are all owned by them, but these class action guys could – so you have been taught to not allow that – your attitude is the well trained sheep arguing the wolf’s case.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
10 months ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Everything is a conspiracy except somehow the legal system is exempt?!

Karl Schuldes
Karl Schuldes
10 months ago

Class action is the biggest scam there is. Don’t let it happen.

Jon Hawksley
Jon Hawksley
10 months ago

The problem with Google holding your data is not some nefarious use but because if they use it when you are searching it gets in the way of searching for the information you are looking for. I would rather pay a search engine that was not trying to control what I click on but instead could read the nuances in the search terms I enter. The best counter to internet companies is to educate children to think for themselves and not lazily click what is in front of them.

Last edited 10 months ago by Jon Hawksley
Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
10 months ago
Reply to  Jon Hawksley

“I would rather pay” – most people wouldn’t, hence the internet advertising economy that dominates the internet (and television before it). Even streaming music only because a feasible model by making it extremely low cost.

Will R
Will R
10 months ago
Reply to  Jon Hawksley

No need to pay – search engines like DuckDuckGo do not store your search history or personal data, give it a go. its not perfect but at least its not Google!

Last edited 10 months ago by Will R
Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
10 months ago

“Campaigners now draw a moral equivalence between consumer data collection and STASI surveillance — but is the aggregation of spending or browsing information by a company really the same as the blanket oppression of life in a Communist state?”

Oh, come on, straw man, false equivalent, no one says they are the actually the same, maybe just the same flavor of thing, the slippery slope which can take one from high and firm ground down into the pit.. google spying on people without consent is not OK. It is not even OK with ‘consent’ which is obscure and unread, but box checked.

“framing data collection as totalitarianism requires a constantly paranoid mindset which shuns human agency, and rejects political solutions”

The Tech/Social Media are 1980, say, not 1984 yet, but it is their path, that is clear. In today’s Plutocracy, Corporatist, Oligarchy, Fas*ist melding of government and big Finance, Tech, and Industrial complexes, that we are to be tracked down to our last GPS point, our phone calls, social media posts, every picture ever posted has facial recognition crawlers forming a link of everyone to everyone and our photo Location recognition, to every location and time, and our shopping all recorded – on line, and by plastic card, and our work/school/income/housing/partners/ social/political, collected – and now syntax, vocabulary, and so on trackers expose us when ever we post online as they see past our aliases – they have you….. all linked together by Google and its ilk. Your social credit score is already existent. But then as one of their enablers you likely get a good score….

YES IT IS A BIG DEAL!!!!!!

You are utterly naked and exposed to these monster Gov/Tech hybrids – and it is not paranoia.

“the paranoid merely stay paranoid” The ones with their head buried in the sand merely stay with their head buried in the sand. They Really Are Out To Get You.

Last edited 10 months ago by Galeti Tavas
Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
10 months ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Another conspiracy post. Yawn!

Douglas Proudfoot
Douglas Proudfoot
10 months ago

Just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean they ain’t out to get you.

Your view of Google is probably colored by your politics. If you agree with them, their censorship isn’t threatening, so their ability to dox you doesn’t worry you. They would have no motive to do so.

If your political views are counter to Google’s, that’s not the case. If you think the vaccine mandate is an unscientific abuse of federal power, you might be considered an enemy of Google. If you think the 2020 US election wasn’t “The most secure election in history,” you might be making them quite angry.

At the moment Google has unlimited surveillance power, and they are a very partisan political actor, at least in the US. For example, they blacked out the Hunter Biden laptop story for a month before the election.

Let’s put it this way: Would you trust them if they were rabid Trump supporters? If not, you shouldn’t trust them at all.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
10 months ago

I have as litle to do with Google et al as I possibly can, in fact with the exception of this site I have nothing to do with any fora or social media, my on-line presence is pretty much zero, I just did a search and came up with one letter to the New Scientist. I have no intention of giving anyone data. However, I’m not sure what politics one must have to either approve or disapprove of Google. It would seem that you believe that there are some rules about the package of beliefs that one must accept to be permitted to hold any political view point – sorry but no one gave me the rule book,so I’ll just go on thinking what I want.

Douglas Proudfoot
Douglas Proudfoot
10 months ago

From at least from one point of view, Google is the DDR. Censorship. Google censors YouTube. They remove videos for political content. They also demonitize content and chanels that contradict government positions on Covid-19 or other political topics. Some infectious disease doctors, experts in their fields, have been blocked from disagreeing with St. Anthony Fauci.

Google also threatened to withdraw advertising placements from The Federalist and Zero Hedge, two rightist sites, if their comment sections didn’t meet Google’s “community guidlines.” Since Google’s “community guidlines” change daily, without notice, the two sites removed their comment sections. Google controls 90% of web advertising placements. They obviously abused their monopoly to do this. Since there were no consequences, you can expect more of it.