Another week has gone by, and yet another scandalous story of the number one SJW search engine treating its users terribly has emerged. Only this time, it’s a far bigger revelation than the company is admitting, and which it very likely did not intend to allow.
The facts are as follows: In the past week, multiple journalists — ironically, not conservatives — reported that they’d gotten locked out of projects they were working on using Google Drive, Google’s cloud storage service. Mark DiStefano of Buzzfeed UK reported the news, and later reported on Google’s “apology” for it, via Twitter. Google explained, “This morning, we made a code that incorrectly flagged a small percentage of Google Docs as abusive, which caused those documents to be automatically blocked. A fix is in place and all users should have access to their docs.”
Now, there are numerous things wrong with this statement, so let’s go through them one by one. First of all, and this is a general point, which just happens to be illustrated beautifully by this latest debacle: Google needs to stop treating its users like lab rats for its machine learning. Already, their attempt to crack down on YouTube videos have cost perfectly well-meaning and sometimes entirely apolitical channels thousands of dollars in ad revenues over absurd misapplications of the rules by content flagging bots. To play fast and loose with their producers’ revenue streams like this, despite those people bringing people back to YouTube, showed an extreme level of disrespect for those users and, similarly, playing fast and loose with code on any Google platform shows the callous attitude that Google has toward people who are technically its customers and sustain its business.
But Drive isn’t just any Google platform. It’s one where people post their private documents. Which brings us to the second, and even worse issue with this story: Why on earth is Google sending bots to scan users’ private content for violations of its Kafkaesque, hyper-PC Terms of Service? Unlike YouTube, where Google can at least give the thin justification that it’s policing bad content seen by the public, there’s no guarantee that anything in Google Docs will be seen by the outside world. So what on earth is Google doing policing it?
The search giant’s statement on this alludes to “protecting users from viruses, malware, and other abusive content” as one potential justification. And fine, if the goal were only to scan documents for viruses or malware to ensure their safety for the platform, then no one would object. But that is clearly not what the bots did in this instance. Instead, they seem to have been looking for “other abusive content,” like, for example, political sentiments that would run afoul of Google’s preferred ideology of cosmopolitan political correctness. Imagine banks looked in your safety deposit box and burned anything that the banks’ owners found objectionable: that is roughly the level of privacy violation that was undertaken here. If even left-leaning journalists like, say, Jacobin Magazine founder Bhaskar Sunkara can wrongly run afoul of Google’s nuance-blind machine algorithms, imagine what it could do to conservative writers who store their documents on Google Docs.
The libertarian canard that Google is a private business and can do whatever it wants is comically insufficient after violations like this. Google is closer to a rogue government in terms of the amount of power it enjoys, and certainly close to a rogue government, given the fact that it, among other tech giants, doesn’t seem to regard itself as an American company, or even an ally of the United States. The privacy of Google users is not something to be treated as a luxury, nor is it something that should be treated as fair game for Orwellian acts like this latest outrage, simply because of the absurd, outmoded idea that any company can do whatever it wants, no matter how abusive or tyrannical it would seem if a government did it.
Competitors to Google should seize on this offense, and the already growing skepticism of the tech giant here in Washington should only grow. That is, if expressing such skepticism doesn’t go against the Terms of Service, yet.