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This Is Uncomfortable

Episode 19: Instrument of sabotage

Oct 17, 2019

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Make Me Smart with Kai and Molly

Why Google isn’t really ‘free’

Kai Ryssdal May 19, 2014
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Martin Smith says its OK for you to be outraged by the NSA’s surveillance programs, but still use Google and Facebook every day.

“People like the connectivity that they get out of giving information to private companies,” says Smith, producer of the two-part Frontline documentary “United States of Secrets“. “And we haven’t seen the kind of abuses [with private companies] that we associate with government overreach. When George Orwell wrote “1984”, it was about government. It wasn’t about private corporations.”

But private companies aren’t totally in the clear. Companies like Google may not have been doing the spying. But Martin says that when the government came calling, they didn’t ask many questions.

The documentary includes a clip of President Bush speaking shortly after 9/11:

BUSH: “The new law that I signed today will allow surveillance of all communications used by terrorists. Including emails, the internet, and cell phones.”

“It was kind remarkable to go back and in the context of what we know now listen to what President Bush was then saying,” says Smith “It was all laid out. The companies clearly had to know.

Smith says what we need to remember is that services like Gmail aren’t really free. At heart, Google is an advertising company. They make money by selling stuff to their users. The more data they have, the better the internet giant is at selling their users more stuff

“When Sergey Brin and Larry Page of Google put together their search engine, that could have been a service that you paid for. Instead, its a ‘free service.’ But what we are giving in return is access to our personal data.”

Frontline’s”United States of Secrets” Part II airs Tuesaday night on PBS.

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