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Is it Google's job to fix society?

Mike Elgan | July 14, 2015
Social problems exist. Sexism, social stigmatization, crime and other problems have always plagued humanity.

Google has received hundreds of thousands of requests for right-to-be-forgotten removals, and it has granted nearly half of them.

The Russian parliament has approved an even stronger right-to-be-forgotten measure which, if signed by President Vladimir Putin, will be become law next year.

And last week a group called Consumer Watchdog asked the Federal Trade Commission to enact right-to-be-forgotten rules in the U.S.

A search engine exists to faithfully index and enable the discovery of legal content posted online. But right-to-be-forgotten rules have the effect of selectively rendering search engines less accurate.

Internet content can stigmatize people, and that's a problem. The right-to-be-forgotten solution requires Google to fix that problem by sabotaging its search engine and offering an inferior product.

Crime

Criminals can use various methods to communicate with one another so police can't listen. For example, they can whisper in each other's ears, talk in code or use burner phones. And, of course, they can use end-to-end encryption for texting or emails.

While bad guys could and do use encrypted communication to jeopardize national security and to commit crimes, encryption is still very useful as a tool to protect national security and to prevent crime. Without encryption, it's much easier for hackers, including state-sponsored perpetrators of industrial espionage, to steal military, business and other secrets and use the information against U.S. organizations. Encryption also helps prevent a long list of crimes, including identity theft, extortion, blackmail and other kinds of fraud.

But the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice recently announced that Google (among other companies) is a major threat to national security and law enforcement because it provides end-to-end encryption.

The solution, according to law enforcement organizations, is for Google and other companies to create back doors that would enable authorities to eavesdrop on encrypted communication.

The trouble is that any back door created for law enforcement could also be used by terrorists, criminals and hostile foreign governments for hacking, spying and stealing. Security experts know this; the FBI and the DOJ apparently don't.

Yes, there is crime. And the solution proposed by federal law enforcement authorities is for Google to fight crime by making its products unsecure. That solution prevents Google from meeting the public's demand for secure communication.

An unrelated situation involves Google's social mapping app, Waze. The free app is like Google Maps, except that it enables people to communicate with each other in specific ways. Drivers can use Waze to alert one another about things like road hazards and traffic jams. They can also use it to identify the location of police cars.

Police organizations recently called on Google to disable the ability for Waze to note the location of police cruisers, saying it enables the stalking of police officers. They want Google to prevent people from communicating with each other about police cars they see while driving around (something the police and the government themselves cannot prevent because of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution).

 

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