While millions of Americans are losing their jobs, financial security and even their lives due to the coronavirus, Google is hoping to come out of crisis with an improved image.
The media is filled with stories like “Tech’s moment to shine (or not),” “What Techlash? Virus Could Remake Industry Giants’ Image,” and “Has the Coronavirus Killed the Techlash?”
While Google can play an important role in helping fight the virus and the economic fallout, a new public relations campaign doesn’t change the fact that the company has fundamental problems with stealing intellectual property, censoring dissenting voices, violating antitrust laws and invading user privacy.
Google is using the virus to hasten some of its worst policies. It exploited legitimate concerns about fraudulent coronavirus cures to increase censorship on the grounds of fighting “misinformation.”
Similarly, Google and Apple are collectively taking privacy invasions to an unprecedented level by initiating a “contact tracing technology” to monitor the movements of all their users in the name of “social distancing.”
Conservative lawmakers like Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley have taken note of this egregious data grab that Google and Apple may commit during the pandemic.
In a letter to the companies’ leadership, he wrote, “The possible implications this project could have for privacy are alarming. For example, your materials state that the data necessary for this project will be anonymized. But anonymity in data is notoriously unstable. Data typically can be reidentified simply by cross-referencing it with another data set. Pairing the data from this project with the GPS data that both your companies already collect could readily reveal individual identities.”
The coronavirus has also given Google a temporary reprieve on having to own up to its massive intellectual property violations when the Supreme Court delayed oral arguments in Google v. Oracle from March to October.
The case involves Google’s appropriation of over 11,000 of Oracle’s Java API code to make early versions of the Android. As the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit explained, Google had discussed “the possibility of Google taking a license to use and adapt the Java platform for mobile devices.”
However, the “parties were unable to reach an agreement, in part because Google wanted device manufacturers to be able to use Oracle’s APIs in Android for free with no limits on modifying the code.”
After these negotiations broke down, Google simply took and used the code without permission or compensation.
Google does not dispute any of these facts, but instead argues that software interfaces are not copyrightable. As the Trump administration noted in an amicus brief in the case, Google “has not identified any industry understanding that software ‘interfaces’ are per se uncopyrightable, and concerns about the interaction of copyright and emerging technology do not justify such an atextual rule.”
Ultimately, however, this case is about far more than just the software interfaces. It’s about whether Google is above the law.
Alex Macgillivray, Google’s deputy general counsel when the company took the Java API code, admitted, “Google’s leadership doesn’t care terribly much about precedent or law. … They’re trying to get a product launched.” Although he was referring to Google scanning of copyrighted books without permission, the arrogant attitude applies to this case as well.
Google can continue to use this pandemic to boost its positive press all it wants, but the American people will see through its charades.
Whether it comes to privacy, antitrust, free speech or intellectual property, Google has always used its enormous wealth and power over control of information to try to reshape the law rather than follow it.
That hasn’t changed during the current crisis – in fact, it’s only gotten worse because of it.
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