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The state of Google

Nov 09 2012, 09:57 IST
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SummaryMany Google users were surprised to see a different kind of greeting at the top of their Gmail inbox.

In early October, many Google users were surprised to see a different kind of greeting at the top of their Gmail inbox. “Warning: We believe state-sponsored attackers may be attempting to compromise your account or computer.” The attacks appeared to be coming from the Middle East.

Google started out as two grad students in a garage with an algorithm and a dream. Their idealistic, “don’t be evil” strapline — not quite the same as “do the right thing” — underscored a corporate moralism akin to ideology. Google wouldn’t just be another mainframe money-grubbing machine accumulating power without responsibility. They would avoid predatory capitalism and occasionally act for the common weal. Google has become a multifaceted corporation and somewhere down the line, it transitioned from a company into an information state.

By 2006, Google had hung out its corporate shingle in China, a place of vast economic promise; also the place where techno-utopians go to die. When China isn’t busy strip-mining Western technology, it is even busier stacking the deck in favour of the local competition. That Google didn’t realise this going in is shocking. And that Google actually thought technology, specifically its technology, would somehow benefit democratic development in China is even more shocking. There has never been a quantifiable causal nexus between economic and political development in the PRC. And technology is not an instrument of enlightenment in that country. It’s an organ of control.

A series of high-level hires from the Council on Foreign Relations, Harvard and the US state department told Google everything they wanted to hear. Yes, you’ll make billions. Yes, technology will change everything. No, no and no. And then Google mostly closed up shop and left mainland China with its tail between its legs. It also got hacked.

In 2010, Google’s servers were compromised by you-know-who. Thousands of Chinese and Tibetan activists were successfully targeted, and Google itself took a hit. Along with other Western IT firms, Google had vast amounts of advanced research and intellectual property stolen. That’s when Google went over to the dark side.

Although Google had been in talks of an undisclosed nature with the National Security Agency (NSA) before its network was compromised, the Chinese breach fast-tracked the relationship. Almost immediately, the NSA was brought in to harden Google’s digital perimeter. The NSA, while generally regarded as the most technically adept entity on earth and a natural choice to secure Google’s defences, is

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