Undercover Googlers Defend Surveillance Valley

By Yasha Levine , written on January 19, 2014

From The News Desk

Googlers -- that is, people who work for Google -- are some of the most brainwashed techies I know. They can be smart, decent people, of course, but most have so thoroughly soaked their brains in Google's techno-utopian horseshit that they've become completely incapable of processing any criticism of their employer. Challenge the Goodness of Google, and they either block it out and ignore, or go into deep denial. It's a sad thing to observe, and it affects many.

I shouldn't have been surprised then, when many of the fiercest critics of my reporting on Surveillance Valley turn out to be current or former Google employees.

Take David Auerbach, who writes a tech column for Slate. Auerbach recently dedicated an entire piece to debunking my criticism of Google's massive for-profit surveillance apparatus and the company's cynical backing of a government surveillance reform group launched by a dozen of the biggest Silicon Valley companies.

Although he acknowledged that for-profit surveillance by Google and other Silicon Valley giants is a problem, he ultimately played down the significance of their activities. Auerbach also claimed, contrary to all evidence,  that Silicon Valley didn't want to compile sensitive personally identifiable information on its users, and that the industry has welcomed stricter privacy regulations. But he argued the whole issue was moot anyway, because companies like Google were not really that bad or intrusive privacy-wise compared with non-Silicon Valley data-gathering companies. The reason? Because Google answers to consumers.

To some extent, the largest Internet companies may like the idea that increased government transparency will lead to increased corporate transparency, since the sleaziest practitioners of consumer profiling and targeted advertising aren’t Google, Facebook, and Apple but shadowy third-party marketers like Acxiom and Turn, who don’t have to answer to consumers in the way that the big names do.
In other words: Sure, Google builds detailed psychological dossiers based on the content of your emails and Internet activity. And based on that intimate and private information, Google has the power to profile us with a frightening level of detail. But what's the big deal? There are these other "shadowy" marketers that you have never heard of that are doing similar things way over there.

Auerbach finished by telling Slate readers that no matter how self-serving Silicon Valley's anti-spying effort may appear to be, we should count our lucky stars that these megacorps are fighting on our behalf.

Speaking of self-serving, there were a couple of facts Auerbach left out of his story: that he was previously employed as an engineer at Google and that he is married to a current Google employee. Is it ethical for a former Google employee to defend Google without disclosing it?

Sure enough, after getting called out on Twitter for his lack of disclosure, he updated his article a few days later:

(Disclosure: I used to work at Microsoft and Google, and my wife is a Google software engineer.*)
Glad we cleared that up.

And David Auerbach isn't the only, or even the most interesting, Googler currently running (under)cover for Surveillance Valley.

That prize goes to Occupy Wall Street activist Justine Tunney, who showed up in a comments section to bash my reporting on Google's for-profit surveillance as "FUD" — an acronym for a public relations tactic that baselessly instills "fear, uncertainty and doubt" in the minds of readers.

Tunney appeared genuinely baffled by my criticism of Google, unable to understand how someone could in good faith have anything bad to say about this wonderful corporation, perhaps the best corporation in the world. She wrote:

It never ceases to amaze me how far people have to stretch in order to denounce the one corporation that gives away everything for free.
An Occupy Wall Street activist defending Google's multi-billionaire surveillance operation? What made it even more baffling, Justine Tunney wasn't your average OWS activist. She's been written about and profiled by the New Yorker and The Nation as one of the founding members of Occupy Wall Street in Zuccotti Park. As a hacker and a computer whiz, her contribution to the movement was setting up and running OWS's main Internet communication hub,, which she initially adorned with the slogan, “The only solution is WorldRevolution." Tunney said she was "just another geek trying to help out with the revolution," and you can see her in photographs with other hi-tech revolutionaries occupying a table in Zuccotti Park, hunched over laptops, wires and computer gear.

Back then, she was a rank-and-file techno anarchist protesting Wall Street and the crushing power of America's corporate oligarchy. Now, Tunney defends one of the richest and most powerful corporations in America.

Google is listed on NASDAQ, located in the heart of Wall Street right across the street from Zuccotti Park. With its stock price currently hovering just over $1,150 per share, Google's market capitalization is somewhere around $380 billion, about the same as Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase combined. Last year, the company had over 50,000 employees, took in $20 billion in profits and held somewhere around $33 billion in cash overseas to avoid paying taxes. In other words: Google is as Wall Street as it gets.

Tunney doesn't care about all that: "Google is the one company I don’t hate. I think Google is actually doing things that are making the world a better place,” Tunney told the Nation last year.

You know the twist of course (although, again, you won't see it disclosed in her comments rebutting my piece): After OWS fizzled, Tunney became a Googler.

“They basically bought my soul," she told the Nation's Nathan Schneider, who caught up with her late last year to see what the movers and shakers of Occupy Wall Street were up to two years after the movement was crushed by police raids.

Tunney works as software engineer, is smitten with her job, and does little more than work, frequently losing track of time while on the clock, like the time she got so deep in the code while telecommuting to Google from a beach in Puerto Rico that she got a sunburn.

"I believe that even though they operate within a capitalist system, they still do the most good throughout the world," she told The Observer in September.

It's hard not to marvel at one of the world's richest companies that is nonetheless capable of brainwashing a one-time hardcore anti-capitalist into not just loving it, but publicly campaigning on its behalf. Google has been able to obliterate these employees' self-awareness so entirely that they are left incapable of feeling fear, uncertainty, or doubt over its ever-expanding program of mass-surveillance.