The Tyranny of Google

The Analogue Counter-Revolution, Part 4 (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? (Who will watch the watchers?)
 - Juvenal
Lovers of liberty are now consumed with the fight against the Obama administration and Congress over their progressive agenda. And rightly so.

Yet there is another, larger front in the struggle for freedom that I fear is already lost. And that is the struggle of the human soul against the tyranny of technology.

In an astonishing interview with The Wall Street Journal, Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google, has outlined what he believes will be the future of web searches. His vision is nothing less than the etiolation of free will by, and the surrender of individual autonomy to, the all-knowing, all-seeing priestly class at Google.

In the future, says Schmidt, "one idea is that more and more searches are done on your behalf without you needing to type." There is, of course, a very fine line between on your behalf and without your knowledge or approval. Just as fine is the line between without you needing to type and without you needing to think or act. Schmidt explains further that, "most people don't want Google to answer their questions. They want Google to tell them what they should be doing next."

When I read that interview, my blood ran cold. A more perfect expression of totalitarianism could scarcely be articulated. A soft totalitarianism, to be sure, but all the more insidious for it -- the hard tyranny of the boot can be resisted, overthrown. A soft tyranny, however, seduces you into supplication, siphoning your soul away a little piece at a time, enticing you to surrender more and more of your thoughts and judgments for the sake of convenience. By the time you no longer have a soul of your own, you will have lost the capacity to realize it -- or care.

A notable feature of totalitarianism, hard and soft, is its enmity towards privacy. Totalitarians want to own you, body and soul, and therefore can brook no private lives in their subjects; private thoughts might incubate radical sentiment, and so potentially pose a mortal threat to the regime.

This hostility towards privacy is zealously held by Schmidt and Google. Last, year, Schmidt notoriously commented, by way of excusing the widespread availability of private information online, "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place." Such sentiments might be useful to Schmidt and his crew as self-justification for their crusade to chronicle every aspect of our lives. But the equation underlying his assertion is truly frightening. It can be summarized thus: If it's worth doing, everyone has a right to know about it. Notice how privacy and immorality get conflated; private thoughts become inherently unworthy, and are thus essentially banished from the human realm.

Anyone who cherishes liberty should take heed of these developments.  For privacy is not just a requisite for freedom -- it is freedom.

Google is one of the most powerful companies on earth.  The extent to which it has already intertwined itself with our lives is astonishing. It is there in the background, all the time, humming along, helping us perform our daily tasks, and doing a better job of it every day. All the while watching, watching, and storing what is sees.

Where is all this information stored? What will happen to it? Schmidt brags that Google already  knows "roughly who you are, roughly what you care about, roughly who your friends are." He believes that we want Google to tell us what we "should" do. Can such a person, such a company, be trusted with so much personal information?  

Google watches us; who will watch the watcher?

Matt Patterson is a National Review Institute Washington Fellow and the author of "Union of Hearts; The Abraham Lincoln & Ann Rutledge Story." His e-mail is
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