There is an uncomfortable willingness among privacy campaigners to discriminate against mass surveillance conducted by the state to the exclusion of similar surveillance conducted for profit by large corporations. Partially, this is a vestigial ethic from the Californian libertarian origins of online pro-privacy campaigning. Partially, it is a symptom of the superior public relations enjoyed by Silicon Valley technology corporations, and the fact that those corporations also provide the bulk of private funding for the flagship digital privacy advocacy groups, leading to a conflict of interest.
At the individual level, many of even the most committed privacy campaigners have an unacknowledged addiction to easy-to-use, privacy-destroying amenities like GMail, Facebook, and Apple products. As a result, privacy campaigners frequently overlook corporate surveillance abuses. When they do address the abuses of companies like Google, campaigners tend to appeal to the logic of the market, urging companies to make small concessions to user privacy in order to repair their approval ratings. There is the false assumption that market forces ensure that Silicon Valley is a natural government antagonist, and that it wants to be on the public’s side — that profit-driven multinational corporations partake more of the spirit of democracy than government agencies.
Many privacy advocates justify a predominant focus on the abuses by the state on the basis that the state enjoys a monopoly on coercive force. For example, Edward Snowden was reported to have said that tech companies do not “put warheads on foreheads.” See Barton Gellman, “Edward Snowden, after months of NSA revelations, says his mission’s accomplished,” Washington Post, 23 December 2013.
This view downplays the fact that powerful corporations are part of the nexus of power around the state, and that they enjoy the ability to deploy its coercive power, just as the state often exerts its influence through the agency of powerful corporations. The movement to abolish privacy is twin-horned. Privacy advocates who focus exclusively on one of those horns will find themselves gored on the other.Julian Assange, When Google Met Wikileaks
This quote can be found buried in the 68th footnote of the first chapter of When Google Met Wikileaks, Julian Assange’s revelatory publication describing the hours-long interview which led to Assange discovering Google’s incestuous relationship with the Council on Foreign Relations. Most would overlook it, but in flipping through the references to that chapter, the passage stood out for its concision. This is an argument made ad infinitum, in defense of decisions made by Google and Twitter and Facebook, these days: “They’re a private company, and they can do as they please with their private servers.” But as consumers and stakeholders in these companies, should we be permitting them to do so?
Unchecked, these companies are granted carte blanche to do for governments that which we’d never permit our governments to do: they gather and process data at scales an in manners unprecedented in history, they infringe upon our privacy so deeply that the abandonment of privacy to lengthy terms of service are now passively-foregone conclusions, and they execute censorship and narrative control through these mechanisms without a second thought to the ramifications of their decisions. The protections which the Constitution was meant to enforce against governments are now accomplished with ease, by the companies which make up the other three-fourths of the Council on Foreign Relations alongside those governments. Connected directly by neighboring seats on the Council, and government grants passed from one to the other to create the tools necessary to accomplish these violations of privacy and liberty, these massive Silicon Valley corporations have become extensions of government free of the oversight supposedly keeping the government in check.
Congressional hearings against them are inevitably farcical. The questions asked take no thought for Jack Dorsey or Cheryl Sandberg, whose prepared advertisements fit perfectly into the interrogatives presented to them; they remain completely unchallenged by the so-called representatives who were elected to legislate against such abuses of power. But why would they challenge their allies in abuse? It’s only by way of these companies that the government can develop and enforce its coercive power over the people they purport to represent.
Make no mistake, these entities may be private corporations, but their existence represents a form of government not seen since widespread feudalism. They are government, in the purest agorist definition: supposedly-legitimate authorities above the common man, without whom people would succumb to irrational, immoral and uncivilized depravity. They are in bed with, and fulfilling the totalitarian wishes of, any and all governments that find themselves hamstrung by the damnable laws meant to protect the privacy and sovereignty of individuals. And just like government, that age-old gang of thieves and violent thugs adorned in the finest of robes, these corporations so intertwined with them must be treated like the thugs they are as well.
Let it never be forgotten that many at Google and Facebook are ardent supporters of the violent Antifa, and would see privacy destroyed for the sake of sending those ironically-named fascists to the doorsteps of individuals with whom those Google employees disagree. Google is an active component of military actions, by way of Project Maven and its ilk, and likewise an active component of oppressive regimes, by way of Project Dragonfly and its ilk. It has no qualms about improving the art of censorship for China, the accuracy of deadly weapons for Saudi Arabia, or the power of propaganda within their home country of the United States.
But so long as individuals grant them defense beneath the misconception that their role as a private company somehow excuses their totalitarian and nightmarishly utopian goals, we will remain within their control. Violent and manipulative coersion is a violation of one’s natural rights whether it’s done by a government, or done by by a private entity. A religious devotion to their supposed transcendence does not somehow make what they’re doing any less abhorrent, and any less manipulative.