Letters to the West

seven years in Tibet-in-Exile (and counting …)

letter to google

as a result of reading the news … (i didn’t use to do that — dang, my life was so much simpler then) …

… the thoughts kept churning, and what happens to me when the thoughts churn, is they form into a writing. It’s kinda like milk turning into butter — a natural, unstoppable process. And then i have this big gob of butter, and i have to put it somewhere. So here it is.

This time it turned into a rant. I kept trying to write a calm and reasoned explanation of my issues with Google, but it kept exploding into this — under the influence of experiences with the people i work with, and to now-personally-relevant world events. That’s how writing is sometimes.

What protects me and my personal info on Gmail?

So ok, i start thinking about that, and i do a search, and find out that as a Gmail user, i can set my options to always use https.
Yah that protects me on the front end, from those bad hackers. Ohhhh i’m so scared of them. They want my credit card. A lot of good it will do them.

What is going to protect me from Google itself?
If i have a gmail account, Google is searching alll my email all the time. Sure sure, “it’s just a program.” Still, i just don’t like it. It’s creepy.

But wait, there’s more:

What if some Google database administrator or programmer follows the trails of my gmail contents and contacts, and decides it should be reported (in the present US climate, witch-hunting is now going on). Will Google allow it to be reported?

What if he does it on his own watch? Dept of “Homeland” (that name always makes me laugh, it’s so 1950s USSR … or 2010 PRC … oh wait … now i don’t feel like laughing any more … ) Security, FBI, and others love to follow up on these things — it is now their stated policy.

Or the US government comes to Google and says “we need all emails and all related info for this person’s account – he is spouting anti-American rants on Twitter and websites, plus is aiding Tibetan terrorists” … what will Google do? I know what Google will do: “<pant pant pant> oh it will just take a sec <type type> here you are.”
(Update 9 jan 2011: Whaddya know. Our Big Daddy the USofA is doing it — (not after me personally, yet, but when they get Twitter @WikiLeaks info, my name will there as a Twitter follower) — and Twitter is standing up to them as much as it can. Google? haven’t heard a peep, yet.)

(Actually i don’t use Gmail, for these reasons. But people i am working with do. And my mail to them is in their Gmail folders.)

I do know these are difficult problems to solve …

But — aaaaahhhh … listen … so sweet and soft and far away … “my little tiny violin playing a tiny sad song”.
aka, “if you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen.”
The “heat” not being the technical problems, of course! Us bitches love technical problems.
But these “problems” concern real people who are affected every day by Google’s anti-privacy, anti-human-rights actions.

I’m a programmer myself, with web, with databases. Sure, not anywhere near the scale or level of you guyz. But i know that the front end is all walled and fortressed, and beautiful UX, and nice promises to users; and behind that impressive facade is just a funky dirty steamy engineering room, wide open, unlocked, unguarded, full of gears and steampipes and t-shirted sweaty tech-brains, where anything can happen. I try to explain this to people i work with. I refuse to build or advise on anything for them unless they have policies — and actions! — addressing this. Some things are sensitive enough that i refuse completely; i do not want that responsibility. (anyway my job is teaching, not doing)

If protecting people’s privacy, rights, and lives, is too hard, Google should rethink that “don’t be evil” b.s. It is really really really hard not to be evil. It takes a hell of a lot more than a nice motto, and feel-good faces over the cute Tibetan monks visiting with their mandala.

So what can Google do?

Probably nothing. Living in this world involves trade-offs. I make my own trade-offs to do what i do. … But luckily for the world, i don’t have anywhere near the power that Google has!

In my dream world, Google would ponder the sayings:

Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

With great power comes great responsibility.

Google would think about the ramifications, in real time, to real people, of searching people’s email, of google maps, of street view, of harvesting wifi data, of tracking searches, of colluding with governments (including the increasingly fascist US govt), of whatever else they are doing that we don’t know about.

Google can stand up on their hind legs, remove their lingual apparatus from the PRC govt’s most voluminous and attractive rear end, and tell the world that they made a huge mistake in trying to “work with” them four years ago. That appeasement doesn’t work with totalitarian fascist governments, it didn’t work with Nazi Germany, and it won’t work with the PRC. That without a real basis in human rights in the law, and true compassion in the heart, all that lovely commerce and moolah, all that nice “trickle-down” fantasy, has nothing to stand on.

In the years when Cisco, Nortel, MicroSoft, Google, etc., were helping the PRC build their massive censorship and snooping apparatus, there was a chance that things could have turned around, if just one of those big companies had stood up like actual men with actual balls, and said “this is wrong”.

People are right now this second, while we sit in our comfy chairs, being horribly tortured in prisons in China and in Tibet because of the actions of these big western companies. At least one Chinese is imprisoned and tortured right now, because Yahoo gave his emails and info to the PRC government. That one is documented. How many others are not known about? How many times has Google done it? Google has given me no reason to believe, other than nicey-nice spoutings on their blog, that this hasn’t happened, or wouldn’t in future.

Sorry i’m being so intense …
um, no wait. (Dang that wussy side of me anyways.) I’m not sorry. Not at all.

Not when i think of some of the kids i know. Kids who left their only family, walked for days or weeks through Himalayan rock and cold, risked (or endured) frostbite, shooting, rape, and prison, for only these things: to get an education, and to see their Dalai Lama. Any single one of these kids has more guts in their one pinky finger than i can even imagine.

Or how about this?
Go to ltw home (or scroll up) and look at that photo for as long as you can. (My personal best is 20 seconds)
So, you see that guy there, in red. (The one on the ground there, with the police boot on him. With the extra red floating around. Yeah him.) Now, imagine his skin is white, and his eyes are round. Imagine his name is Scott, or Steve, or Matt. Or Joshua or Mary.

No, i don’t know his name — he is one more of the million Tibetans who are dead or disappeared. His name is likely to be Tenzin, or Lobsang, or Tsering … same as most of my friends in Dharamshala. “Tenzin” is one of the names of His Holiness Dalai Lama himself.

Why he’s layin all messy on the ground there? Well i don’t know his specific details. But there are many like him — you can read the verified stories at TCHRD.org, and of course, find more on the web. The causes of their unpleasant conditions is usually: Carrying a Tibetan flag. Owning a photograph of His Holiness Dalai Lama or His Holiness Panchen Lama. Refusing to say the Dalai Lama is a bad person. Saying that they don’t appreciate all the Han Chinese taking over their country, their land, their jobs, their lives. Sending their child to India for a decent education and to be able to practice their own religion. Putting a poster on a wall with one or more of these things on it. You know. Really bad stuff.

Google could put this photo above everyone’s monitor, and have everyone remind yourself that everything that you do, as part of one of the most powerful entities in the human world today, has the potential for this result. If you are not working with that image, or one like it, in your mind at all times, with the power you have in the world, your concern for “social problems” is a total total total farce.

“We are thinking of the long term, trust us.” No. That doesn’t cut it any more (if it ever did).
The blood is running now. And blood has already been running for much too long.
Just like with the ecology of our world, the “long term” is over, folks. We are here.

We will have to repent in this generation,
not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people,
but for the appalling silence of the good people.

   — Martin Luther King, Jr.

(Note: Yes yes yes, “citation needed” all over the hecka place. I didn’t want to clutter my beautiful rant with all those blue links. However everything i am saying is based on easily-findable news articles, and my opinions are based on personal experiences as well as those events. Am happy to provide as many links as you want, i have hundreds. Of course … you can always …. google it :)

If you want some curated links — in fact, they are ones i would put here — you can always take a look at https://twitter.com/#!/tometaxu But, full disclosure: I follow @wikileaks feed. So Big Brother, following me, may like to take a look at you also.)

Well well, look at this: The following items came up just in the past 3 weeks since i wrote this thing! It’s good they came up after, otherwise damn i’d be churning out another lump.
* Talk about “Search leakage” is not FUD. Google, please fix it. – 21 January 2011
* Google’s relationship with NSA and US goverment – 25 January 2011
* Google censoring search – 27 January 2011
* What does Google’s subtle censorship say about us? – 28 January 2011

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: