You may have recently read or heard in the news that Google is participating in affecting the searches of radical Islamists and potential recruits. Major news sources incorrectly reported that Google was indeed partaking in such an arrangement. The statements are not so true, according to a spokesman that talked with Buzzfeed. The information that was reported was based around a potential Google Adwords Grants program that allows non-governmental organizations to place ads against specific searches. Taken out of context, this was misconstrued to mean that NGO's and Google would be redirecting searches so that the user would be shown anti-radicalization campaigns. Essentially, the reports made it sound like Google was going to control the searches of terrorists by providing them with fake search results.
But, should tech giants like Google have a responsibility in helping governments with this kind of prevention?
The actual program does give NGO's the opportunity to run anti-radicalization campaigns, but just like other marketing on Google, it is because it allows them to decide what search terms they want to be the trigger for their ads. Google will not be controlling and giving fake search results to radical groups. The reporting on this subject may have been inaccurate due to the fact that technology and terrorism are consistently getting more spotlight in the press. Officials know that a lot of the planning and coordination of some of these devastating attacks happens online and there are calls to step up cybersecurity to prevent that. But, should tech giants like Google have a responsibility in helping governments with this kind of prevention? This is the issue that has received attention and is subject to, so far, mild debate while people turn the idea over in their heads.
Jump back to 2015 when President Obama visited technology leaders like Apple, Google and Twitter in Silicon Valley to try to make a push for cybersecurity legislation that would create more collaboration between government and companies like those. Previously, industry leaders in Silicon Valley haven't been too receptive to the idea of partnering with the government, since Edward Snowden shed light on how much information they already have from spying online. And can you blame them? Tech companies like these have a lot at stake. Yes, an overwhelming majority of the people who use their services freely post content that involves personal information, but even though they may be unaware of just how many details they are giving companies access to, they still cry out when there are privacy concerns. There is a gap between the acceptance of a digital omnipresence and the associated knowledge of consent.
There is a gap between the acceptance of a digital omnipresence and the associated knowledge of consent.
Confusions with what companies like Google are capable of doing are prevalent and it makes sense that this happens because it seems even the news outlets didn't quite understand how Google AdWords works. They assigned a kind of responsive power to the company that quickly had to be corrected so that people can continue to believe in this sort of net neutrality that industry leaders have to project.
But remember when Paris came under attack in the fall and the global spotlight was on not only the devastation to the people of France, but the reactions of the rest of the world? As the media learned more about what was going on, it was the online world that gave people updates about their loved ones, allowed people from all over the globe to show support and filled timelines with questions about how and why something like this could have happened. People wanted answers and slowly but surely the evidence pointed out that a lot of planning prior to the attacks had happened online. People generally understand that what they post and search is subject to being found by family, friends, co-workers and even the government, but this context is providing a whole new arena to advocate for tracking the bad guys. With the rising awareness of coordination and recruiting by radical groups via the Internet and social media networks, the public now seems to be the source creating the call to action.
This means that technology leaders are now poised to be a part of the team, working for the good guys because they have the skills and abilities to help. The term "hacker" has often carried with it a negative connotation of the type of person with enough technical knowledge to break in and wreak havoc on large institutions and has given people fear of personal security issues. But are we in an era where the hacker is becoming the hero? The response from Anonymous that went viral after the Paris attacks was met with resounding support. This online community was able to offer the public action that called for justice while politicians were still carefully preparing their press releases. Imagine if a bigger, more well-known entity, like Google, was able to get in on the action and do the same.
But how can companies like Google join in the fight while maintaining their position as responsible industry leaders? There's not really a way for them to take an official stance since they are independent businesses and at this point, not controlled by the government. It's clear that the west coast has skills and technology to offer that the government wants to utilize as resources for public interest and protection but they must tread lightly going forward. Discourse on this issue will continue to grow as the world watches how the U.S. handles the prevention of attacks by using technology. For now, Google and others will have to walk the tightrope that has been stretched between responsibility to aid the greater good and protection from government regulation.
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