Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich says Google and other big tech companies have become a “threat to democracy” because of their monopolization of information and their ability to manipulate it to their desired end.
“What is going on with some of these huge internet companies is really quite frankly the great challenge of our time, and a lot of people don’t appreciate it,” Brnovich told Executive Editor of The Western Journal Shaun Hair.
The attorney general offered the example of Google, noting that 90 percent of online queries go through that particular search engine.
“We know historically when you have a great concentration of power and/or wealth in one company or two companies, quite frankly you can undermine democracy,” Brnovich said.
He argued in the case of CNN, MSNBC or CBS News, when people tune in, they know they are receiving the news from a certain perspective.
“The difference is when you do that Google search, you may not know you’re being actively manipulated. There are other results out there you’re not able to see,” he said.
A study published earlier this month by the Columbia Journalism Review found that CNN, The New York Times and The Washington Post dominated the “Top Stories” results in Google online searches.
In fact, the only conservative outlet that appeared in the top 20 in this category was Fox News.
“Our data shows that 62.4 percent of article impressions were from sources rated by that research as left-leaning, whereas 11.3 percent were from sources rated as right-leaning,” Northwestern communications professor Nicholas Diakopoulos wrote regarding the study’s results. “26.3 percent of impressions were from news sources that didn’t have ratings.”
To Brnovich, this kind of power to manipulate what users see is a source of great concern.
“Any entity that gets too big, too powerful, to control what you see, what you read, ultimately becomes a threat to democracy,” he said.
The attorney general contended that conservatives, because they stand for individual liberty, will carry the online debate every time, if the playing field is even.
“It doesn’t matter what the platform is, if we get access to it, we debate those ideas and principles, we will win. I think it’s one of the reasons why the folks at Google, and people with a bias know that,” Brnovich said.
In addition to having the power to choose what people see online, companies like Google and Facebook also collect and store information about users.
“Their business model is based off of collecting information about you and then they store it, they buy it, they sell it, they trade it. So literally they have thousands of data points about you. That’s how they make their money,” Brnovich said.
This information is used to help sell products to people based on their online searches and affinities; however, it could easily be weaponized to oppress citizens.
According to the attorney general, “In places like China, in governments that are totalitarian, governments that are oppressive, what they’re doing is they’re using this type of information — people’s contacts, their searches, what they’re reading, who they associate with, they’re actually using that to actively imprison and suppress people.”
Anna Mitchell and Larry Diamond authored a piece last year for The Atlantic titled, “China’s Surveillance State Should Scare Everyone.”
It documented China’s plans to create a “citizens score” based largely on online data collected.
Bernard Marr explained in Forbes how the system will work, once it’s fully implemented by 2020, if all goes according to schedule.
“In China, government agencies and private companies are collecting enormous amounts of data about e.g. an individual’s finances, social media activities, credit history, health records, online purchases, tax payments, legal matters, and people you associate with, in addition to images gathered from China’s 200 million surveillance cameras and facial recognition software,” he wrote.
“Data that indicates non-compliance with legally prescribed social and economic obligations and contractual commitments are flagged up and aggregated on a government-wide level to determine the trustworthiness of companies and individuals.”
For Brnovich, the price of preserving Americans’ liberty, in light of the capabilities of current technology, is eternal vigilance.
The Office of the Arizona Attorney General is investigating Google’s alleged practice of recording users’ location data, even when they specifically opt out of allowing it, The Washington Post reported.
Google spokesman Aaron Stein said in a statement to The Post that location data “helps us provide useful services when people interact with our products, like locally relevant search results and traffic predictions,” adding the company collects this data through its Android operative systems on smartphones, as well as people’s online searches.
The Western Journal reached out to Google for comment, but has not yet received a response. We will update this article if and when we do.
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