Today I got involved in a Facebook debate about Google scanning people’s email and tipping of the authorities when they found questionable images of a child. My grandfather would often give me the sage advice, “Never get into internet debates about pedophiles.” He really was a wise man. And I am a fool.
I think Google is super smart, and not just because they actually know everything about me or because they are figuring out how to live forever. Google is smart because they gave us a moral reason to support them scanning our emails. In fact by taking on sex offenders they gave us a reason to demand them to scan our emails.
Here is what I wrote in my Facebook debate (sorry Grandpa):
“Of course protecting children from sexual predators should be a top priority for all of us. And we should therefore all take action to stop it, root out the causes of it and take responsibility for stopping it. And Google has now convinced you that scanning all of your email and doing god knows what with the information they gather is all worthwhile because they helped catch a predator.
While it is uncomfortable to question Google’s actions because those actions are so commendable in this case, it is important to do so. I have real questions about what they do with the data and how they use it for their own purposes. As the article I cited above [here] asks, how would we feel if Facebook started swaying elections through its algorithms? How come we aren’t as upset at the fact that Google dominates how you experience the expanded world of information? What impact does that have on world view? On actions you would take? It isn’t only about surveillance it is about control and freedom and what we are willing to trade in relation to each.”
This debate happened on the awesome Samir Chopra’s feed. And to show how awesome he is I am re-blogging a post he published back in June about programs (and algorithms) as agents and people.
Last week, The Nation published my essay “Programs are People, Too“. In it, I argued for treating smart programs as the legal agents of those that deploy them, a legal change I suggest would be more protective of our privacy rights.
Among some of the responses I received was one from a friend, JW, who wrote:
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