28 June 2021

Serious concerns re "Big Tech"

In 2018, an Irish technologist named Dylan Curran downloaded the information Google had collected about him. All in all, Curran found, the corporation had gathered 5.5 GB of data on his life, or the equivalent of more than three million Word documents.

In an article for the Guardian, Curran wrote that within this trove he found
"every Google Ad I’ve ever viewed or clicked on, every app I’ve ever launched or used and when I did it, every website I’ve ever visited and what time I did it. They also have every image I’ve ever searched for and saved, every location I’ve ever searched for or clicked on, every news article I’ve ever searched for or read, and every single Google search I’ve made since 2009. And . . . every YouTube video I’ve ever searched for or viewed, since 2008."
In addition, Curran discovered that Google keeps a detailed record of what events he attends and when he arrives, what photos he takes and when he takes them, what exercises he does and when he does them. And it has kept every email he has ever sent or received, including those he has deleted.
- from The Big Tech Extortion Racket at Harper's.  Lots of interesting info on Amazon and Facebook as well.


  1. I couldn't access the article linked to but I guess my question about the concerns over "Big Tech" is, "And?" I suppose the information gathering would be problematic if a totalitarian government took over and wanted to target certain people -- but, realistically, they'd probably come after anyone who didn't toe the line in real life anyway. If it gets that bad, we're screwed with or without the info collected about us (as an atheist super liberal, I certainly am!) In any case, in the past a tech giant didn't know what you were up to but, odds are, your neighbors did. (Read any local newspaper from even the early 20th century and you'll see columns about what people were up to, the names of out of town visitors and who they were visiting, or where a family went on vacation, and other minutia about people's lives, and the mailman or postmaster/mistress knew what magazines you subscribed to and even if you got a lot of letters from one person or place, etc.)

    To me the loss of privacy on a larger scale (where chances are no one is ever going to look at it on such a granular level as to see your info) is an acceptable price to pay for the advances and convenience that the internet gives us.

    1. I think you might be surprised at some of the information in the article. It may be behind a paywall for you online, but a hard copy of the magazine (Harper's, Sept 2020) should be available in your local library. Highly recommended.

    2. Hmmm. I'm not sure if I entirely agree with you, Lynda. Absolutely, a totalitarian government is going to be trouble for its targets one way or another, but I'd say it's still preferable that they know as little about you as possible. Under "old-fashioned" terror regimes like the nazis, there was at least a slim chance for the oppressed to hide or escape. With the degree of information available to corporations like Google, that chance would be all but annihilated.

      I do agree there's nothing much we can do about it anymore though. Let's just pray no totalitarian regimes are going to pick up on this idea-- oh, wait.

  2. The article referenced was behind a paywall, but other items from the same author, Dylan Curran, are revealing and frightening. Is there any way to remove all of this data and prevent future data mining?

    1. Just to clarify, the article I'm citing is not written by Dylan Curran, tho it does reference his experience back in 2018. I know there's a paywall for some viewers, but as I suggested to Lynda, just go to your public library and read the article. It's free (paid by your local taxes).

  3. I think this is exactly the problem with Big Tech.

    It's a pretty fair deal to hand over your location if you want local weather info, and if that needs to be paid for by a local ad, that's fine with me as well.

    What is not ok, is that this information is kept forever and ever. And can and will be used against you. Because in the end, even non-totalitarian governments as the American one just get access through the backdoor. And who wants to be reminded about what they did 15 years ago? Or what they searched on a late drunk night? If that information finds a person who wants to hurt you, you go down. That is not acceptable.

  4. I agree with Lynda that the alarm about this is more a product of naivete than any proof of malicious intent. If you want to ask the internet for information about something, at some point an agent needs to know (1) what information you want and (2) who is asking, up to an IP address. We can place VPN services and other obstacles in the way, but the information will not reach you without knowing where you are on the internet. IMO it is much more important for us to adjust our perspective to this reality than to expect Google, etc., to permanently delete records of internet activity. And anyways, what assurances from Google would you actually believe were sincere with respect to their behavior on this point? How could we ever verify their fidelity? The search information (in aggregate) is just too damn valuable to them.

    1. How could we ever verify their fidelity?

      You can make it illegal to keep information that long. Or regulate how you can keep that information. And who has access to that information. The EU has actually given that a good stab.


      The GDPR isn't perfect - is a compromise between 20something countries. However, it's a good attempt, and it does give consumers rights and puts the responsibility on the keepers of information to remain legal, or face consequences.

      In contrast, the US Congress is not even thinking about such rights, but it funding the NSA, forcing American Big Tech to build in back doors in their software, and it is financing a facility in Utah that is supposed to continuously download the entire internet and store it.

      In short, the US government is trying gets its sticky fingers on that Big Tech data itself, while not protecting its consumers.

  5. Your friends at Amazon will tell you of every order you have placed. My first was June 18, 1997, but they keep records back to 1995.
    "That is not so bad", I hear you cry. They also keep every link you have clicked, mouse movement track, everything you have put in a shopping cart and later deleted, computers and phones you have used, credit card numbers you have used, shipping and billing addresses, IP addresses, and more. Add our friend Alexa, and they keep voice recordings, commands issued, products ordered, and so on.
    Since inception.


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