When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for people to dissolve the significant ties which have connected them to a certain tech company, a decent respect for the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
Today I declare my independence from Google. My reasons may be familiar to many, but I will lay out my argument, in order to demonstrate that this is not an emotional knee-jerk reaction, and then I will discuss how I will implement my exit plan.
Back in June, the tech giant announced that it would stop working with the Pentagon on Project Maven, an effort to develop artificial intelligence to help analysts sort through the enormous volume of full-motion video collected by unmanned aircraft. The decision by corporate leadership came after Google employees signed a petition in April, which stated that the company “should not be in the business of war” and citing the company motto “Don’t be evil.”
My initial reaction, as a member of DoD, was to be less than thrilled with the broad implication that efforts to defend our nation are ‘evil’, but reasonable people can disagree about the efficacy of certain U.S. operations abroad. I even applaud any company for wanting to be cautious about the development and potential application of artificial intelligence, even though in this case the project seemed aimed in part at improving accuracy and preventing civilian casualties. I have no qualms if a company opts to not participate, although I found odd the choice by Google leadership to cede decision-making to a few thousand of its employees, instead of working to convince them on the goodness, for both the company and the country, of the initiative.
Google then announced that it would no longer bid for the Pentagon’s JEDI cloud-computing contract. Now we’re talking about something far more innocuous than drone footage. The DoD was looking to rent a really large hard drive for all its data, and Google didn’t even want to be associated with that.
Although I understand that, in the post-Snowden era, tech and communications companies may feel that collaboration with the government can be at times problematic, this seems larger than that. One of the biggest and most successful companies in our nation has now categorically decided it does not want to do any type of business with the U.S. military, in a time when we are in great power competition with Russian and China, two revisionist and revanchist nations, and we need a whole-of-nation approach to arrest a decline in relative U.S. power. The irony is that Silicon Valley got its start through government contracts to develop and build radar jammers in the nascent stages of electronic warfare during World War Two. Of course the internet itself would not exist as we know it without Pentagon funding in the 1960’s. (As President Obama stated, “You didn’t build that!”). Google’s disdain for the Department of Defense doesn’t extend to hiring talent from it, however. According to a recent article in The Atlantic, “[the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency] has become something of a farm team for Silicon Valley. Regina Dugan, who was appointed DARPA director by President Barack Obama, went on to head Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects group, and other former DARPA officials went to work for her there.”
The final straw, however, which led me from mere annoyance to outright boycott, was revelations that Google continues to try to build a search engine with the People’s Republic of China, that would ultimately assist the ruling communist party in monitoring, censoring, and track its citizens’ use of the internet. The only conclusion that one can draw is that while Google considers the U.S. military to be evil, it does not maintain the same opprobrium for the authoritarian regime in China. To paraphrase Doc Holliday, “Google, your hypocrisy knows no bounds.” I am done with Google, and will actively stop using its products.
Like any such declaration, the mere act of announcing it does not necessarily change the immediate facts on the ground (or in the cloud.) This will not be a quick campaign, but through some deliberate steps, I will disentangle myself from a company that I have previously relied heavily upon for various internet services:
Maps: This is the easiest transition. Plenty of other map and traffic apps to use, but keep in mind that Google owns WAZE. (I have updated this section after an astute reader informed me)
Blog: Long-time followers of my blog have noticed that I have already switched from Googles blogspot application to Word Press, which is far more user-friendly and offers greater options.
YouTube: I’m not a huge YouTube user, except for occasionally linking to videos in this blog, and when we do family culture night, but there are alternatives for searching and viewing uploaded video content.
Chrome: Folks get pretty particular (and downright tribal) about their web browsers, and I will admit I was very fond of Chrome for a number of reasons. I’m switching to Safari, but open to other suggestions if readers have suggestions for better alternatives.
Email: I’ll be honest, this is the most difficult transition. Not only do I use gmail for my primary personal account, but it’s my log-in for a wide assortment of websites and subscription accounts. This is the transition that will take me the longest, as I choose a new email provider, take the deliberate steps of changing my log-in for various sites, and notify close friends and associates of my new address, all to ensure a smooth handover. The upside of this effort is that it will assist me in screening out a number of organizations that I no longer want emails from, yet have been too lazy (or unsuccessful in previous efforts) to unsubscribe from their mailing lists.
Google has made a hypocritical set of choices, which they are well within their rights to do, but that doesn’t mean we need to support them and use their products. If you agree with me, please join me in ditching Google, and share the idea with others.
Any and all opinions are solely my own and do not represent the views of the Department of Defense.