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<nettime> Ippolita Collective: The Dark Face of Google: Update 2010
Patrice Riemens on Sat, 17 Jul 2010 16:56:32 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Ippolita Collective: The Dark Face of Google: Update 2010

Hi Nettimers,

In February 2010 the Ippolita Collective completed an update of their book
"Google's Lights and Shadows" (aka "The Dark Face of Google" (*).

Sorry it took so long for a translation to appear - but then I am famously
Anyway, here it is.

The book itself is fully downloadable in Italian, French, and Castilian,
and in English without the notes (sorry again, folks!), at:

Cheers, patrizio & Diiiinooos!

(*)  or is the Dark _Side_? Sorry for the confusion, we'll decide on this
one day...;-)


The Dark Face of Google
Update February 2010

A simple story

Back in 2006 The Ippolita Collective was setting its heart to write a book
about the transition from epistemology to ontology in the digital worlds.
We were holding for self-evident that the matter of 'what' (the things you
know) was being replaced by the matter of "who" (as in "who you are"): the
management of knowledge had therefore shifted into the management - and 
the shaping - of identity. But because we felt not able to write such a
book (but please if any of you could be able to do it - we'd gladly
help!), and also because we felt there would hardly be a public for it -
as we are not part of the academic world, so no 'dear colleagues' who
would be interested in our brainchildren?  Well, so Ippolita decided to go
for Google instead. Google is a bit too big to pass unnoticed, but what
holds for Google holds as well for the other giants in the world of search
engines (like Yahoo! Bing! etc.). Google is simply the best know, the most
used, and the most many-faced, so it seemed to make sense to subject it to
an extensive critique. But doing this we would not forget that at that
time Google was merely the most obvious and universally understandable
example of the shift taking place - and this is even more the case today.
To put it differently, of the viral spread of attitudes  and practices of
delegation to an actor who is openly voicing hegemonic statements
regarding its own 'research objectives', who openly regards, and will
bend, these technologies as a mean to satisfy its own requirements.

A few years have gone by.  The book has been read, downloaded, reviewed,
and translated. And to our surprise, Google, instead of caving in (not
because of our book, but as consequence of the rise of a new technology
actor), has taken more pre-eminence than ever. Together with 'cloud
computing', the vapor of data, there is also a 'FOG' spreading: not as
mist, but fear: "Fear Of Google" (N1). The fear is not so much that a
knowledge monopoly might threaten the interests of individuals - who are
the caboose of political concerns anyway - but that it might constitute a
real menace to established powers, be they corporate or politic, what used
to be called 'the industrial-military complex'. Follows a flowering of
studies and discussions, and the big corporations lawyers are working
overtime to fill cases in order to prevent Google from altering the status
quo - or at least to stake a claim to their piece of the cake ?

Ippolita still claims not  to be an expert on the subject: our experiences
and competencies accrue during the research, and we are certainly not
spending our whole life tracking BigG's dirty tricks. So it's now time to
rapidly go through the latest developments and check out if the analysis
model we suggested has withstood the test of time. We think it does,
because if even the novelties have been thick on the ground, it has
apparently been a case of the famous Lampedusa quote ("If we want things
to stay as they are, things will have to change."). Google is today's
Guepard (N2), relentlessly pursuing his goal to "organize all knowledge" -
for all the world.

Google is the class' best pupil, henceforth the de facto standard of "the
web-ization of all things". Every bit of information is becoming
increasingly accessible through a web-connected terminal, which more and
more means: Google. Amidst the earlier search engines, which were clogged
with ever more intrusive banners and adds, Google was a great novelty. Its
no-nonsense efficaciousness, together with its 'philosophy of excellence'
(largely thanks to the open code) made it widely acclaimed, with geeks and
academics welcoming it as the cool alternative on the web: Google was
'good', as other multinationals were 'evil'. But the fundamental problem
was already there right at its inception: an enterprise striving to
catalogue all  existing digital information can only have hegemony as its
goal, and this hegemony is now felt in many sectors as posing a threat.
Knowledge is power, and if the knowledge means having access to and
ownership of all the data generated by users, then it is obvious that the
one owning the cloud of data is in the dominant position. By positing
itself as the Net's almost unique - or at least, leading - entry point,
Google represents an unheard-of concentration of power. Something private
individuals, companies and governments, and in general, any actor using
information technology, cannot avoid to be confronted with.

Haven't there been any changes, then?

Did anything change is the question. Well, not much, really. But we can
always draw a list of BigG's novelties - only those that did impress on
us, of course (and which we did notice). An overview of the 'evolutionary
trends' of 'the Google machine' must per force start with the opening-up
towards smart phones and other advanced e-devices: the Android operating
system is now a fast developing commercial reality and competes fiercely
with Windows Mobile, IPads and IPhones, Symbian-Maemo, etc.(N3). As has
been often noted, the browser is more and more a development environment;
hence the browser-made-in-Mountain-View could not be far away: There be
Chrome, and his little Open Source brother, Chromium (N4). As an
increasing proportion of user time of devices (PCs and smart phones) is
spend connecting to the Internet, the role of the browser as navigating
instrument in the Net Ocean becomes more and more central (N5).

Now let's have a look at Google's 'services'. Google Health enables one to
file, search, and share personal medical data; further developments and
integration with ever more advanced mash-up are progressing at swift pace,
the most spectacular field being that of mapping territories: Street View
comes now very close to military intelligence devices.  Google has now
also become a DNS provider with Google apps. It has now become possible to
move one's own domain around, including e-mail, and to use Calendar,
Gdocs, Sites - at the moment up to 25 Gmail mailboxes can be hosted on
one's own domain. A bonanza for small companies, as nobody can offer that
much in exchange for just a few, contextual adds. A battle royal with
Microsoft and Apple is ail locked up when the moment Google OS is
launched. Google OS is a complete operating system, entirely based on -
surprise! - GNU/Linux code. And the Chrome browser is probably going to be
the pounding heart of this terminal-system giving direct connection to the
"Google Cloud".

And Google doesn't want to be left behind when it comes to social
networks: after a trial with Orkut (still very popular in Brazil) it's now
the turn of Google Wave and Buzz, the latter achieving actual convergence
between chat, picture galleries, discussions, personal RSS, e-mail, and

What all these development share as a common issue is privacy. It's now
the talk of the town. Google is widely being pictured as a major threat to
our privacy. How comes? Aren't other service and access providers a threat
too? And wasn't Google supposed to be "the Gentle Giant"?

The false problem of privacy, and the real one: profiling.

"Public private life" is an oxymoron if there is one, and yet it expresses
very well the sense of befuddlement that seizes one upon discovering - no
it's not a discovery by Ippolita, it has been known for years by now -
that exists scanning software out there, extrapolating keywords out of
your electronic correspondence in order to target you with personalized
adds, and all this piggybacking on your 'private and confidential'
exchanges. Google has made obvious the reality of a sphere that is neither
private nor public, which is overlorded by technocracies. Does privacy
laws actually protect medical data in possession of health authorities?
Same question for  criminal records held by the penal system? It is clear
that problems arise when this kind of data become accessible - that is,
much more accessible than they were previously, as digital archives are
much more accessible through search engines than analog archives used to
be (N6). respect of privacy, or simple discretion, is the "right to be
left alone", in all matters considered private, including everything one
wants to keep private. But 'private life' has become a non-issue. It is an
empty and meaningless concept, the more so that it needs to be violated
first in order to become tangible. Moreover, if the idea is that respect
for people's privacy means "protection of those data that are sensitive
with regard to individuals and must be protected from inspection by
non-authorized parties", then, ever since Echelon (N7), it is obvious that
we are talking about something that does not exist and has been out of
existence for very long time.

And actually the problem is not so much to be under surveillance: each
call is being taped (in theory this is kept only for a limited time),
every move made on line is logged by this machine or another (for instance
the one which provides net access). The issue remains very complex all the
same. The concept of 'profiling' is maybe the most useful in order to come
to grasp with the situation, since Google is not so much interested by an
individual as such, but in her or his profile, this in order what for a
'type' of 'customer' she or he potentially represents for Google's
advertisers, or which sort of user/ developer/ prosumer she or he could
potentially represent for its own services.  Of course it is rather
disquieting to know that the term profiling originates in a crime-fighting
related activity: file all the criminal, and profile 'm all. But far more
disturbing is the fact that most people apparently couldn't care less, but
on the contrary demand to be even more intensively and permanently
controlled, this because many people (and that does not includes only
avowed cyber-fetichists) simply want to avail of instruments they are
unable to manage in an autonomous manner, and which constitute powerful
self-snitching tools. Hence, there is no need together data on each and
every individual and waste precious resources in the process; it is far
easier to leave this task to the individuals themselves, all you need is
to sell them advanced PCs which are continuously connected to social
networking sites (enabling you to map the inter-personal linkages),
usually including video-cams and GPS ? as are today's smartphones and
other fast selling gadgets!

And regarding the question of police, military, intelligence, and assorted
authorities, never mind all kinds of criminal ones,  being able to access 
these data in due time, the recent case of China is extremely instructive:
the authorities there were able to break - or to have broken - open the
GMail mailboxes leading to dissidents the government didn't like, and
unlash repression on them. And that surprises nobody, as concentration of
power almost always leads to an anxiety to dominate even more (N8).

So what happened? Why has the level of perceived security come down so low?

Security paranoia and technocratic militarisation

The debate about security, whether perceived or presumed real, is fed by
numbers. But statistics are fairly useless: they're only series of numbers
intended to bolster one's standpoint, and meant to justify, not explain.
It would be however more interesting to look into the origins of this
security paranoia and to try to understand how it is related to the
upheavals the introduction of digital technology has caused. It is not our
intention to go here into an issue that has been discussed so much. It is
heartening to see the number of studies that have been devoted to the
elaboration by authorities of fear-based policies (N9). Seen in the in the
context of this study, one can, at the risk of extreme schematization, say
that the stapling and cross-contamination of the spheres of the public/
the private; subjective opinions/ objective realities, and the individual
vs the collective are a bit difficult to manage. And instead of increasing
the number of public hearings devoted to the management of technological
power, the delegation that goes together with the unthinking use of
digital instruments only augments the technological imbalance. Google
takes a pole position in this technocratic game of dominance, expanding
all the time and striving to englobe all aspects of daily life: no longer
searching information only, but talk, move, have fun, have a chat ?

The perception one has of one's frailty and the extreme exposure one is
subjected to by an impersonal technocracy only increases the craving for
security. And from there stems a further increase of technocratic control,
ending up in an unprecedented level of securocratic militarization. And
everybody is perforce enlisted:  go snitch on your neighbor, he looks
suspicious - he could be a terrorist, who nows? threat level at # ? More
surveillance is required? All this but for the fact that controls are at
the opposite end of privacy, and that nobody appears to have the slightest
idea about who is going to control the controllers, and how. The only
thing that is sure, in this race to control, is that the quantity of data
that is stocked in already existing control systems, is by now vastly
beyond the management capacious of the very actors (private or public,
civilian or military) who have installed them. Hence even more fresh
controllers must be induced in order to screen through millions of indexed
sites, the zillions of hours of footage recorded by as many CCTV cameras,
etc., all this in the hunt for deviation, for threats to 'public
security'. One can imagine that before long, citizens will be invited,
maybe in exchange for a modest fee, to become assistant policepeople,
detectives, snitchers or spies. And otherwise, the massive use of spin
doctors in politics, in conjunction with the use of info-guerilla
tactics(aka infowar) in order to influence and manipulate public opinion
only serve to further heighten the general sense of confusion. Finding
ones way in real time 'society of spectacle' has never been so hard (N10).

Perspectives and Involutions.

Once a new infrastructure has been built and an immense network erected,
it must function properly. Accumulation must bear fruit. So one can
confidently expect new initiatives to be launched, new services offered
for free, or very cheaply (at least for a start), so as to max out the
immense potential of the data-centers, of the network infrastructures, and
last but not least, of all the data that are being collected therewith. In
this sense, the 'fear' that Google is going to impact on the business
model of whole swathes of businesses is not unfounded: from publishing to
journalism and telephony, Google's sway will be felt. Here are a few
plausible scenarios: Google as ISP, Google as telco, Google as
localization service, 2D or 3D, Google as publisher, Google HDTV, Google
Video on Demand, Google Space for online multiplayers game (MPG), Google
Telemedicine, etc. etc.  You can safely bet that every single of these
services will at least be explored by BigG, since it holds all the card
necessary to be a player, to wit: a sweltering mass of users data,
increasing all the time, profiled search results with targeted
advertisements, more and more broadband and memory on hard drives. So lets
make up - no pretense of exhaustivity here - a list of what kind of
perspectives all this might open up.

Google is the perfect example of centralization and vertical integration
in organizing the digital domain. In contrast to this model, it would be
interesting  to explore and to construct decentralized and horizontal
systems on basis of distributed, peer-to-peer search engines.  There is
already a functioning prototype: YaCy, a Free Software search engine,
which offers a "pluralism of sources", whereby the crawler is launched by
each user on the range of data to be indexed and the search results become
available in a distributed fashion (N11).

All this raises many questions in China, for instance. It is clear that
the problems Google is encountering and will encounter even more in the
future in its relentless pursuit of global, capillary penetration, come
from the totally unprecedented situation it finds itself in. As Google is
in the possession of an unheard of quantity of extremely sensitive data,
which are of unheard of quality to boot, like personal communications, it
often actually possesses more information on the citizen of a given state
than that state itself! No wonder that the holder of the monopoly of
violence - the state and its agencies - would very much like to get hold
of these data itself, especially when we are talking about an
authoritarian state like China. There is of course no guarantee it will
then make a better or a worse use of these data than Google does. As there
are no precedents to bank on, every state reacts differently to this
'challenge'.  But there is also a worrisome technical aspect to the issue:
is Google 'crackable'? It would look like it is, given the declarations of
Mountain View spokespeople regarding intrusions in GMail mailboxes which
took place, not through theft or other forms of password capture, but by
making use of weaknesses in the system itself.

Thinking about this encounter/ confrontation between a private firm and
whole nation-states opens up other, pretty scary scenarios, especially in
the field of collaboration (voluntary or enforced) between Google and
intelligence services. And there is also the aspect that if Google really
gets to be considered as an 'essential service', i.e. one one can no
longer do without, it would find itself in the same position as banks and
other status-quo upholding 'essential' enterprises, aka "too big to fail".
During the last financial crash - which surely won't be Capital's last
crisis - it has been already problematic to explain state bail-outs amidst
the prevailing neo-liberal consensus. So how are we going to proceed to
make a multinational like Google 'public' - meaning state ownership - if
the need arises? And yet there have been shots in that direction, which
unfortunately appear not very far removed from the spectre of a New World
Order (N12). To say it once again: an unprecedented concentration of power
represents an unprecedented potentiality of domination.

Alternatives Ahoy?

The Ippolita Collective is now often being approached as if it was an
expert in matters Google Inc. The conversation inevitably ends up with us
being asked: " OK, it's clear that threes is a load  of problems. But we
are not experts like you guys, we are simple users. We are Google's
passive victims. We thought Google was good, and now turns out it's evil.
What is the alternative then?

Alternatives don't come out of the blues, they must be built. And there is
surely not a single alternative. And there's no alternative at all if the
things we want are a 'instantaneous' search engine, 'free' 100MB e-mail,
and other services, many more services, constantly new services, and
faster services - without ever thinking about who actually manages and own
these services. So if the sky is the limit to the digital demand, then the
sole alternative to Google is a Google clone growing fatter even faster
and offering even more at even greater speed.

An other approach would be for people to start building quality
alternatives in an autonomous manner. The necessary, but not sufficient
pre-condition is the ascertainment of one's personal desires before
embarking on using technologies. This is especially true if their use
become mainstream without any reflecting on it, simply because the tech is
there, it's apparently free of cost, and you can't do without it if you
want to keep up with the current trends. Which means to give oneself over
to the dromocratic wave, to the cult of speed Paul Virilio has commented
on for long time now (N13).  The alternative to an industrial
technological system, of which Google is simply the most manifest example,
 on the other hand, consists in the creation of convivial technological
tools, by which we mean tools crafted at the mesaure of the people using
them, by the people using them and with the help of kindred people. The
idea being to think about what things are made of and how they are made
(also on the web) before just doing something with them (N14).  already
quite a number of people are doing precisely this, they devise, distribute
and make multiply solutions that are individual, temporary, tailor-made,
autonomous and self-determined, transmissible and traducible, and
enjoyable. This for the satisfaction of their own cognitive needs and
desires by way of technological instruments.  This idea of conviviality is
not new (N15), and she has been and is still being practiced in many
forms, also on the web - there are many tools out there, you need only to
search them out (with or without Google ;-) and all they need is to be
used in even newer ways by the daily dwellers in Cyberspace.

Q&D translation by Patrice Riemens
Groningen, July 14, 2010.


(N1) FOG (http://fearofgoogle.com - but temporarily suspended at
bluehost.com!) was a site that for many years gave beef to the 'fear of
Google' (cf. http://scobleizer.com/2007/05/06/fear-of-google/  also:
http://searchenginewatch.com/3633580  - both in 2007). The fear has not
stopped, but spread world-wide in the meanwhile?

(N2) African leopard. Refers to the title of the iconic Italian novel 'Il
Gattopardo' (1956) by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa and its most famous

(N3) Android is a virtual machine set up on a modified Linux kernel - as
with nokia/maemo, but then less 'free'.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Android_(operating_system) and

(N4) Browser as development environment: see infra. Chrome and chromium
see the relevant Google.com sites; also:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_Chrome and

(N5) No wonder then that Google is funding the Mozilla Foundation to the
tune of $60m a year. But then what will happen when Google finishes
developing "the fastest browser ever"?

(N6) How many of us ever looked into a criminal record? Not many, we
guess. But these days, information about pedophiles, and other delinquents
are just a click away, especially in the USA.

(N7) Echelon is a military-industrial intelligence gathering operation
eavesdropping on all the world's digital telecommunications, operating for
the past four decennia, and now even more performing than ever (cf.

(N8) On profiling and associated issues there appears to be an excellent
Italian site : http://www.delirandom.net/  - in    Italian ? Check out the
extensive (but apparently 'in need of editing') Wikipedia entry on the
subject: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Profiling_practices

(N9) Eg. Critical arts Ensemble, Marching Plague, NY, Autonomedia, 2006.
L.Napoleoni & R. Bee I Numeri Del Terrore  Perché non dobbiamo aver paura
(The numbers of terror - and why we should not fear) Milano, Saggiatore

(N10) (NB: I couldn't find this note back in the text between N9 and N11,
so I 'contextualised' it here - tr)
This is a tricky subject and most autors touching it appear to have been
infected by the conspiracy virus, an affliction made worse by a rather
curious (un)balancing act between the demand for both an absolute freedom
of expression, and a truth-certifying authority. Even if taken with the
necessary dose of skepticism,  Bruno Lussato probably provides the most
disquieting account of distributed disinformation: Bruno Lussato, Virus,
Huit leçons sur la désinformation (Virus, eight lectures on
disinformation) Paris: Syrtes (2007). Something in English on his site: 

(N11) http://yacy.net/  Sorry I couldn't entirely make up the meaning of
this sentence, so best is to refer to the YaCy site itself, where the
set-up is explained in terms of: (i) peer-to-peer index sharing (ii) de-
centralized architecture (iii) uncensored search and (iv) total security.

(N12) The French sociologist, economist and philosopher Yann Moulier
Boutang has published extensively on the political aspects of the
'knowledge economy', especially in the sphere of knowledge production and
ownership. Read more in the review Multitudes 
http://multitudes.samizdat.net  (some articles, and all abstracts, are
translated in English)

(N13) Paul Virilio, Speed and Politics, New York: Semiotexte (1986)
(original, Vitesse et Politique: 1977). An introduction in English at:
http://www.daaq.net/folio/bibliography/b_virilio.html (by Peter Kantor)

(N14) Ippolita's talk at the Society of the Query Conference, Amsterdam:
On convivial technologies: Carlo Milani "Scritture conviviali: tecnologie
per participare" (2009) (thesis, in Italian):

(N15) Ivan Illich was an early precursor with his book 'Tools for
Conviviality' (1973) For more, see:
http://hubpages.com/hub/Conviviality-Ivan-Illich  also the Wikipedia
entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ivan_Illich	`

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