As the influence of technology companies grow common in everyday life, an underlying debate has emerged over the security of personal data – the same data we mindlessly agree to input without further thought in everyday software. Protecting data is expensive, and a growing number of citizens worry that companies will not be able to tackle the costs needed to secure it, leaving an uncountable amount of information in a vulnerable state. Those with malicious intent and the right tools could therefore violate the privacy of billions. Cambridge Analytica’s business practices validate these fears, as outlets reported their mismanagement of facebook users’ data without consent. Contrasting these fears, however, Google’s recent plans show that perhaps companies have begun to take notice on this serious and threatening issue.
Google in Munich
On May 14th, Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google, announced plans to open the Google Safety Engineering Center, also known as the GSEC, later this year in Munich, Germany. Pichai relates the commencement of this idea to similar comments he made earlier this month in California during a developer conference held annually. Pichai states that a focus on privacy and security will form the foundation for the advancement of internet technologies in the near future.
Many nevertheless doubt the true motives of Google following the recent ‘Dragonfly Scandal’ in late 2018. It was shown that Google’s management was considering aiding China in the creation of a search engine with extensive censorship; it would of had helped reinforce China’s restriction of information and free speech. Fortunately, a leaked memo was released to the public outlining Google’s egregious practices, forcing Google to shut down its operations and ties to the Chinese government. Amplifying its controversy, Sundar Pichai defended many of the actions Google took, claiming it was “important for us to explore” the extent of Google’s influence.
Past controversies aside, the change in Google’s agenda is predicted to be both highly effective and fruitful. Google has the resources and influence to leave a strong impact on how consumers view, and most specifically trust everyday technology. Pichai’s blog post stands corrected in discussing the role of Munich as a site to begin these great endeavors. Munich is a city rife with programmers, and it saw the birth of Google Chrome.
The EU and Article 13
Europe might be in need of Google’s new mindset, as it has also stood as a battleground for the fight to eliminate censorship. The EU’s passing of the Copyright Directive, otherwise known as Article 13 has garnered much controversy due to how vague and unclear many of its ideas and standards lie, leaving them up to the interpretation of individual governments – governments that could abuse these policies and push censorship. The lack of boundaries hurts whatever purpose Article 13 may have originally had as countries can continue to manipulate it to whatever they believe sounds just.
Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, has gained recognition as a stark opposer of Article 13, with her words inspiring many other European leaders to stand against its laws as well. But 2021 is the soonest that any definite change could occur with regards to solving the problem. Additionally, due to how long and complicated the EU process is in the abolition of legislation, it will more than likely take much longer. Google’s recent push for internet freedom can hopefully support the opposition towards Article 13 can participate in the movement to eliminate it, perhaps preventing other nations from involving themselves in similar legislation.
Google’s Recent Progress
The first changes in regards to consumer safety can already be seen in Google Search, Google Maps and Google Assistant. This care will come from the work of a gowing staff meant to more than double by the end of this financial year; engineers will be working on the site from more than 60 different countries. Pichai strongly believes Munich could be developed into a global hotspot for Google’s future. Not only in regards to GSEC, other research and the development of future products could very well be situated in Munich in the coming years.
Pichai also revealed that they are creating a fund called the Google Impact Challenge on Safety. This fund will give out $10 million to foundations and groups who focus on protecting consumers from the possible dangers associated with the internet. Google will also fund educational institutions focused on advancing innovation in this ever increasing market. Google is displaying relentless drive on shaping the future of the internet, a future that ought to be more secure with user data.
YouTube’s Latest Pitfall
Kristie Canegallo, Google’s vice president of Trust and Safety, further illustrates Google’s struggle between user safety and growth. Canagello has recently been under scrutiny by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), who had an investigation on how YouTube indirectly engendered a growing community for predators in the last couple of years. The counsel of the inquiry, Jacqueline Carey, asked her why had Google not addressed the issue up until the public and groups such as the United Nations exposed these malpractices. Canagello, speaking for Google, responded by essentially contrasting internet freedom with the controlling stance addressing the issue would bring – in other words, YouTube would not flourish organically under heavy censorship, even if the censorship was for moral betterment. She also stated that the company will now involve itself in efforts of increasing security and privacy “outside of the seemingly known boundaries of technology”.
In retrospect, it appears that Google’s agenda is one that favours user safety. However, even if Google continues to set its sight in the right place, there is still a looming worry of what Google could achieve with the power it has displayed in recent years. Influencing billions, being heavily involved in elections, and signing agreements with Chinese governments are a few examples that clearly display Google’s influence today.
If Google plans to lead the world of technology in future decades, it must shift its focus from producing financial gains to protecting user safety and privacy. The GSEC, contrasting Google’s past scandals, shines a light on a safer, promising future, where user privacy is respected, as it ought to be. Google’s management must acknowledge their uncontested influence on humanity, and therefore take responsibility for the betterment of the internet as a whole.
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Williams, Rhiannon. “Google Launches €10m Grant for European Firms Tackling Extremism and Other Safety Issues.” Inews.co.uk, Inews.co.uk, 14 May 2019, inews.co.uk/news/technology/google-10m-grant-european-tackling-extremism-safety-online/. Accessed 16 May 2019
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