The five biggest internet companies in the world, including Google and Facebook, have privately delivered a thinly veiled warning to the home secretary, Theresa May, that they will not voluntarily co-operate with the “snooper’s charter”.
In a leaked letter to the home secretary that is also signed by Twitter,Microsoft and Yahoo!, the web’s “big five” say that May’s rewritten proposals to track everybody’s email, internet and social media use remain “expensive to implement and highly contentious”.
Yeah. Right. As if Facebook, Google+, Microsoft et al weren’t already doing their utmost to achieve precisely that.
And even as I am against the Snoopers’ Charter, I wonder whether there isn’t a longer-term dynamic at work here. Take the example of Google search. When you log in to Google, your search phrases are tied into your login but are not available for webmasters whose sites you visit. However, when you do not log in to Google, your search phrases – whilst no longer tied into your Google login – became available for all and sundry to examine. This is a clear example of the mentality at hand: you want a degree of privacy from the outside world, entrust it to Google & Co (for the moment). You don’t want to entrust your privacy exclusively to us, then lose it altogether with everyone else.
Multiply this mindset up a thousandfold, and we can see that the Big Five’s thinking may go way beyond a disinterested stand on behalf of our privacy: if the government does require, by law, Google & Co to voluntarily give up the data they’re currently harvesting on their users, we’re talking about a massive writedown in the value of what is essentially the intellectual property – certainly the “raw materials” – of these companies.
When Google & Co talk about protecting our privacy, they’re actually talking about protecting their IP. For if the Snoopers’ Charter – and their like elsewhere – are noteventually passed, government will presumably – at some point in the future – end up being crudely “blackmailed” by these rapacious organisations in exchange for getting access to their treasure troves of information. After all, he or she who owns the data is always going to have the biggest say in determining its price when at the negotiating table.
One final thought, and just to underline again: I’m neither in favour of the Snoopers’ Charter nor in favour of transnational corporations collecting so much data on our habits, ways of seeing and ways of doing.
If truth be told, I’d much prefer a world where neither existed.