Fuck These Google Guys

nsa-postitSo there was this recent ‘bombshell’ about how the NSA has hacked Google and Yahoo, giving it an (allegedly) unauthorized ‘back door’ to these companies’ customer data to supplement the FISA-warranted front door they have via PRISM. Does this tell us anything new about the NSA, that is, anything that damns the NSA any more than it already is? No, not really. We know they want all our data and we know they do not feel particularly constrained by any law or agreement in pursuit of same. So they’ve gone after it by yet another route.

But there’s that nagging, eternally open question of corporate complicity again. So hey Google, what’s up???

In a statement, Google’s chief legal officer, David Drummond, said the company has “long been concerned about the possibility of this kind of snooping” and has not provided the government with access to its systems.

“We are outraged at the lengths to which the government seems to have gone to intercept data from our private fiber networks, and it underscores the need for urgent reform,” he said.

Yeah, of course you’re gonna say that, lawyers. What else ya got?

Well, as The Washington Post notes,  there are these ‘two engineers with close ties to Google’ who, ‘exploded in profanity’ when they saw among the Snowden documents a “drawing [noting] that encryption is “added and removed here!”  to which “The artist [added] a smiley face, a cheeky celebration of victory over Google security.”

 “I hope you publish this,” one of them said.

Now that’s something I could certainly go for, if I were, say, the kind of infantilized rube that is uncritically eating up the simplistic and, purely-by-coincidence, quite profitable, Davey vs The Surveillance State narrative the Leak Keepers keep feeding me. For the rube, plucky Google engineers giving the NSA hell are a nicely cinematic addition to the gatecrashers who are toppling the surveillance state and saving journalism at the same damn time. More please! says the rube.

Well, says Google, it just so happens that two of our engineers have written Plus posts about this. Now, we haven’t authorized what they’ve written. We have simply relied upon paid publicists and the usual army of dipshits who voluntarily worship cool companies, to propagate links to their posts all over social networks, in  a way that is just totally, but purely by happy coincidence, in sync with those two adorably irate engineers mentioned in the WaPo story. Mind you, these are not official Google spokespeople and they’re kinda sweary.

Here’s Network Security Engineer Brandon Downey, who posted on Oct. 30, the same day the WaPo story came out:

Fuck these guys.

I’ve spent the last ten years of my life trying to keep Google’s users safe and secure from the many diverse threats Google faces.

I’ve seen armies of machines DOS-ing Google. I’ve seen worms DOS’ing Google to find vulnerabilities in other people’s software. I’ve seen criminal gangs…

I’ve even seen oppressive governments use state sponsored hacking to target dissidents.

But even though we suspected this was happening, it still makes me terribly sad. It makes me sad because I believe in America…

But after spending all that time helping in my tiny way to protect Google — one of the greatest things to arise from the internet — seeing this, well, it’s just a little like coming home from War with Sauron, destroying the One Ring, only to discover the NSA is on the front porch of the Shire chopping down the Party Tree and outsourcing all the hobbit farmers with half-orcs and whips.

And here’s Google Security Engineer Mike Hearn, who posted six days later:

I now join [Brandon Downey] in issuing a giant Fuck You to the people who made these slides. I am not American, I am a Brit, but it’s no different – GCHQ turns out to be even worse than the NSA.

We designed this system to keep criminals out . There’s no ambiguity here. The warrant system with skeptical judges, paths for appeal, and rules of evidence was built from centuries of hard won experience. When it works, it represents as good a balance as we’ve got between the need to restrain the state and the need to keep crime in check. Bypassing that system is illegal for a good reason .

You gotta really love that last paragraph in the Hearn excerpt, marking the crucial difference between a FISA rubber stamp and stealing the data outright. ‘The warrant system with skeptical judges, paths for appeal, and rules of evidence’, ha ha.  That’s some funny shit, for anyone who knows how the FISA authorizations actually work.

But the funniest thing is that this is all being taken at face value by people who should know better. I don’t really doubt that Hearn’s and Downey’s outrage is sincere, which along with their obvious dedication to their work, makes them the perfect proxies for Google executives. The ‘unofficial’  aspect, encapsulated by Downey’s  ‘They are my own thoughts, and not those of my employer’  and ‘Fuck these guys’ just makes it ring all the more true. But, of course, Hearn and Downey are not in any position to know in detail what arrangements Google executives have made with the NSA, nor the ways in which other engineers elsewhere in the company may have exposed Google’s systems to snooping, so both their outrage and their dedication are absolutely meaningless. It’s pure, deceptive PR, whether Hearn and Downey intended it that way or not.

But it seems to have worked, at least with some. Check out this from Jacob Appelbaum, Wikileaks insider, alleged bane of the security establishment and sometime co-author of Snowden stories with Leak Keeper Laura Poitras:

This seems a tad weirdly premature, but perhaps Appelbaum means the news about Google has been so damning lately, they have no choice but to completely reverse their current NSA policy of capitulation cum collaboration. Still,  if that’s going to happen, I don’t see how pep talks on Google’s behalf like Appelbaum’s– based on pure speculation — help with the necessary pressure.

Nor does it help anyone but Google when neither the Washington Post nor the Guardian story on the same topic mention a 2010 agreement between the NSA and Google that flatly contradicts Drummond’s claim that the company “has not provided the government with access to its systems.”

In 2010, The Washington Post reported that Google invited the NSA to investigate a breach by Chinese hackers and to assist the company with shoring up its network against further attacks. As Wired wrote at the time:

The agreement between Google and the NSA, still being finalized, would allow Google to share critical information with the NSA about the attacks and its network — such as the malicious code that was used and its network configurations — without violating Google’s policies or laws that protect the privacy of users’ communications, the sources say.

Privacy advocates were justifiably alarmed. From the same Wired article:

The Electronic Privacy Information Center filed a Freedom of Information Act request on Thursday, shortly after the agreement was made public, seeking more information about the arrangement (.pdf).

Executive Director Marc Rotenberg believes the agreement covers much more than the Google hack and that the search giant and intelligence agency were in talks prior to Google discovering that it had been hacked.

“What they’ve told you is that this is about an investigation of a hack involving China,” he told Threat Level in a phone interview. “I think and have good reason to believe that there’s a lot more going on.”

[Update 11/10/13] The NSA denied EPIC’s FOIA request on the grounds that confirming or denying any relationship with Google could make “U.S. government information systems vulnerable to attack”, even though the agreement had been widely reported at the time. A federal district court judge sided with the NSA in 2011, and in 2012, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for D. C.  upheld the ruling.   (source: USA Today)

On the same day Wired reported on the agreement, the site’s Noah Schachtman wrote an opinion piece condemning it:

The company pinkie-swears that its agreement with the NSA won’t violate the company’s privacy policies or compromise user data. Those promises are a little hard to believe, given the NSA’s track record of getting private enterprises to cooperate, and Google’s willingness to take this first step.

This would all seem amazingly prescient if Schachtman hadn’t simply been stating the obvious. No doubt Google was telling the truth when they pinkie-swore not to hand over user data. They simply handed over their network configurations. What could possibly go wrong?

If anyone with any journalistic muscle has weighed in on this, I’ve missed it in the hoopla over  ‘Fuck These Guys’ and the shockingly deceptive portrait it is painting of Google as both victim of the NSA and trustworthy ally in the fight against it. This is particularly puzzling considering that the story of the 2010 NSA/Google agreement broke in Gellman’s Washington Post and that Spencer Ackerman, who co-authored the Guardian piece, was working at Wired when it reported on, and opined against, the agreement.

For Boss Leak Keeper Greenwald, it seems Google is still just that thing to which you snidely refer nosy people when they catch you lying. He’s made no mention of the Google/NSA agreement,  though two days ago he did helpfully tweet a link to a Money article that reads like a Google press release.  I guess that’s that “adversarial position to political and corporate power” he talks about, eleven dimensional chess style.

Many thanks to Danny Colligan (@danny_colligan) and Thomas Lord (@thomas_lord) for crucial input on this post.


eBay Journalism Fellow and relentless dumb-downer Glenn ‘Free Speech for Corporations’ Greenwald continues to misleadingly darken the line between the evil government and Silicon Valley, this time tweeting an extremely simplistic WaPo article about how much the two differ from the standpoint of their privacy-violated subjects. There has always been a whole lot wrong with this distinction but it’s now in the realm of egregiously stupid — to put it charitably — as we learn more details of the truck the NSA has backed up to the major providers, seemingly without much, if any, resistance. A WaPo commenter spells this out nicely, and recommends this article which offers a more nuanced view of the problem.

My pal @danny_colligan has written a comprehensive reply to the WaPo piece in which he details the barriers to boycotting companies that harvest data.


Greenwald Still Covering for Omidyar on PayPal

A Harbinger of Journalism Saved

A Heat Vampire in Search of a Movie Deal

Take Your Drip and Stick It

Viva The New Journalism

Another Snowden News Story, Another Lesson in Proper Whistleblowing

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69 Responses to Fuck These Google Guys

    • Tarzie says:

      Ha. Had to look at it a few secs to get your drift. Nice supplement to the post.

      Good thing the NSA doesn’t advertise.

      • lastwheel says:

        It has everything. Ever present Google pride of place, an advert for the latest impotent public non-show trial inquiry governmental farce, and all broadcast largely uncritically to the latte crowd by orthodox press masquerading as radicals. It’s funny you should say the NSA doesn’t have to advertise because the evening before the very same GCHQ speakers referenced in the leading item (ignoring the advertorial for the 800 luxury flats in the Battersea “revamp”) were at the Tower of fucking London indulging in a 3000£ a table banquet for arms dealers:

        Click to access 2013-Tower-of-London-Defence-and-Security-Dinner-2013.pdf


        > We welcome you to join your peers and Sir Iain Lobban KCMG CB, Director, GCHQ at this prestigious industry dinner, where you and your clients will experience a unique dining experience in the historic surroundings of the Tower of London.
        Raise your profile, make new business connections and entertain your clients at this acclaimed and influential event.
        > […]

        To cap it off the Guardian throw in some propaganda for the “right sort of extremist islamists” as the Saudis unconvincingly take ownership of the anglo-american proxy-war on Syria.

  1. diane says:

    Nice, much needed piece, dear.

    (Gotta run, much as I kind of like it here, a lot!)

  2. Bill Wolfe says:

    Google does the Claude Reins and it is taken seriously.

  3. deb says:

    on this topic again you’ve summed up my take on the subject more directly and eloquently than i could’ve. i got a tinfoil hat head pat yesterday when i reply tweeted “color me not convinced” on this exact subject that included a link to one of the g+ posts. it all sounds so staged to me and i could swear one of the leak stories had a graphic with some corporations redacted towards the bottom and a comment about how they were natsec redactions. i spent about an hour looking but couldn’t find it. there’s been such a slow drip it’s hard to grab a detail on-demand but i have a fairly good visual memory and know i saw something to that effect. keep up the good work.

  4. silliness says:

    The whole Snowden story can now be officially declared – at least – a limited hangout or – at most – a whole cloth psychological operation. Reuters is reporting that contrary to using his super-human computer skills, Snowden just asked between 20 and 25 of his fellow workers at the NSA facility for their login credentials and they gave them to him.

    And we’re supposed to accept that? That NSA employees when asked by the new computer guy for their passwords – something that doesn’t happen at ANY regular business – would just say “Cool, no prob, bra!”. No way. Maybe if it had been one person. Maybe, maybe two could have gone unnoticed. But 20 TO 25?!!!

    No way no one saw this.


    “The sources say 20 to 25 co-workers at the NSA regional operations center in Hawaii gave Snowden their information when he told them they were needed so he could fulfil tasks as a computer systems administrator.”

    • Tarzie says:

      I don’ find that story that hard to believe and I see no reason why they would make it up.

      • silliness says:

        Reasons for extreme skepticism:

        1) No systems administrator would ever ask someone for their login credentials to do work on their computer – not even in the shoddiest of shops/corporations. They have the ability to reset passwords if need be. So from outset this is a silly gambit to attempt especially in an NSA facility.

        2) One of the things repeatedly drilled into any employee’s head at any job that involves even the merest hint of security – much less a security clearance one – is to never ever give up their passwords – I would think that workers at the NSA must know this. I could possibly believe that one or two employees could have been suckered but 20? 25? Edward Snowden had to bat 1.000 or else someone saying something would have shut the whole leak operation down and he would have been busted. This new guy to the office gambles – i.e., without anyone raising a flag – 20 to 25 times on asking freaking NSA employees for their passwords and wins?! Sorry, I can’t buy it.

        3) He worked there for only about a month. From the RT story: “Snowden worked at the site for around a month last spring, in which he downloaded tens of thousands of classified documents on vast NSA surveillance programs that he would later give to journalists at The Guardian and The Washington Post.” Again, if he had been doing this ongoing for years after building up trust with employees it might be understandable – maybe – but for him to come in cold and ask for the credentials of over 20 people and have all 20+ people either give up their goods and not say anything OR not give up their credentials and not say anything is really really hard to believe. Too hard, IMHO.

        So, beyond all of the fortuitousness of Snowden’s story in regards to his escape, his partnering with GG et al, etc the most implausible piece of the story yet happens to be how he got lucky over 20 times in the span of a month in having NSA employees dish over their passwords without detection all while he was copying tens of thousands – again, without being noticed – of their files onto thumbdrives?

        Obviously, I don’t know the answer as to why they would do this. Motives are always murky but this story on its face doesn’t compute. That’s all I’m saying. BTW, great reads on the GG stuff. Fanserfs, hadn’t heard that one before. Cheers.

      • Tarzie says:

        You make good points, but we don’t even know that the story is true. But why even make this story up?

        BTW, Greenwald is ridiculing it on Twitter. Says Snowden’s indictment keeps him from commenting.

      • NL says:

        I agree with silliness’ assessment of the sysadmin scope of capabilities. He could also have created ghost users to funnel docs through, changed permissions on accounts making them super users (even without making them full admins), map drives for hidden directories to copy docs into, written scripts to automate copying or to send docs outside the system, opened VPN access points, doctored the logs to hide all of that, and about a million other things so there would be no need to ask for passwords.

        On logging I’d have to disagree somewhat with circadianwolf. If someone thinks that everything isn’t logged they’re seriously fooling themselves. It would be my contention that logging in that system would include not only IP stuff but every activity on the intranets (the internal systems) from messaging to copying docs to even accessing them to read as well as tying them to specific access points. I would also expect keystroke loggers or similar on every gov machine. [This happens in gov systems that are not the NSA/CIA and not even systems that require a security clearance, as a matter of course if the compsec people are doing their jobs properly. It also happens in corporate systems. I mean just consider the data collected by Facebook or Google…every little “Like” or +1, tied to an IP and tied to user accounts/emails/etc. and that’s just from the public.] One could take measures against all of that if they had the skills and the access which a sysadmin would.

        One primary reason for floating this story is that just by directly taking documents there’s not much more they can charge him with other than theft (and the iffy espionage thing). With other people’s passwords he can be charged with fraud under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) which is the same one they were threatening to use on Aaron Swartz and talking about sentences in the decades.

        As for Google not being evil o_O Oh please, where’s the incentive other than some BS public relations stunt.

        I appreciate the job you’re doing here Tarz, we’ve got to look much harder at all of this.

      • diane says:

        I would also expect keystroke loggers or similar on every gov machine. …. It also happens in corporate systems.

        It never ceases to amaze me (and I’m not even a coder), how ignorant many are of the technologies going on in the background of the companies they work at. Most especially, those who willy nilly check on their own personal affairs, comment on political blogs during their breaks and lunch hours (or, if in Middle Management, whenever they care to, as they feel they are ultimately quite favored by our Founding Father capitalist system), etcetera.

        My first experience (Fall 2004) with a corporate IT person ghosting the computer I was using to solve a software glitch – and how frighteningly invisible to me that he was – on a job, totally validated my belief that one should never, ever, trust using an employer’s technological capabilities for personal purpose, even if they are on their ‘own time.’

  5. silliness says:

    “But why even make a story like this up?”

    Who knows. We are talking about the CIA/NSA, there are always possible motives. I’m always reminded of the Bush official who supposedly told Ron Suskind back in the day that they now create their own reality and we’re just here to comment on it.

    GG is hilarious. As you’ve so skillfully noted before, he’s really adept at wielding his legal training when he needs to. So I guess when anonymous sources were saying what a freaking computer wizard/hacker Snowden was GG was equally miffed, huh? Or did that just add to his partner’s mystique? A bit sensitive aren’t we, GG?

    Here’s an MSNBC story from August on how Edward “did it” and it’s a bit more thrilling and mystique-building. There were tons of these types of articles out there talking about what a hacker guru Edward was and how he did it. Techies were lapping this stuff up.


    But Snowden was not most users. A typical NSA worker has a “top secret” security clearance, which gives access to most, but not all, classified information. Snowden also had the enhanced privileges of a “system administrator.”…snip…As a system administrator, Snowden was allowed to look at any file he wanted, and his actions were largely unaudited. “At certain levels, you are the audit,” said an intelligence official…snip…He was also able to access NSAnet, the agency’s intranet, without leaving any signature, said a person briefed on the postmortem of Snowden’s theft. He was essentially a “ghost user,” said the source, making it difficult to trace when he signed on or what files he accessed.

    Ghost user sounds sexier than password stealer, wouldn’t you agree? Oh well.

    • Tarzie says:

      I am still having trouble seeing your point, mainly because I don’t see what anyone gets from this story at all, no matter what scenario you believe about Snowden’s identity or intentions.

      • silliness says:

        I guess my overall point, first, would be that in light of the incredible amount of play this story is getting in the MSM and the “leftish” and “libertarian” press, our documented national history of being point-blank fantastically lied to by our betters in the gov/MSM going back decades and the Snowden story’s seemingly never-ending stream of implausible occurrences on top of the devious methods by which GG and others have used this story to create the “good whisteblower” narrative it’s simply amazing to me that so many people have donned their Snowden masks in good faith/hope so quickly and without just saying that the whole thing stinks and that we don’t know nor will ever know if this whole things is real.

        My point more specifically: Is this password story the beginning of a counter-narrative? Someone thought, since the first story of Edward Snowden super-hacker seemed to work so well we’ll just cook up an equally preposterous counter-story one that nails Edward Snowden for active espionage in a way that we can prove? The NSA now has witnesses against Snowden – if this story is to be believed – and no longer does his guilt/innocence hang upon computer forensics; NSA employees are saying that Snowden stole their passwords. Is this a greater crime? Personally I don’t know not being familiar with those laws. Or is this supposed to be really what happened as I originally posted thus adding even more outright unbelievability to the Snowden story in that it shows that the NSA is filled with bumbling effing idiots who freely give up their passwords? Note: so “bumbling” that they’ve not got witnesses who’ll testify against him? Is this the reason for GG’s dismissal? Again, there are many possible motives, time will bring more clarity but ultimately – once again – us spectators are once again expected to swallow the Spectacle without ever raising the possibility that we’re being played no matter what the real story is.

        Seriously, this blog is a panacea to read compared with the outright naive sycophancy I see on the regular left sites – not that that is surprising – concerning this story. Disheartening. Gotta run. Look forward to reading more.

      • Tarzie says:


        Yeah, the whole thing reeks of bullshit from all sides. The reason why is largely beside the point, I guess. My point has always been that whether or not Snowden is the real thing, oligarchy will do with him and his leaks what it will. Same goes for if he’s an operative of some kind. He’s just raw material. So are the leaks.

        The sycophancy of the other lefts is disheartening. My hunch is that Greenwald’s base is made up of well-heeled professionals who get by in life by sucking up and feeling ambivalent about it. Greenwald makes them rebels by proxy — in a way that dispenses with almost all the inconvenience of being a rebel — and they suck up to him for it.

    • Most system administrator functionality includes an impersonate option (wherein the system responds as if you are a designated user). I don’t know what logging the NSA employs, but in many systems, even for large corporations, it is next to nonexistent, especially at that level–and considering we know the NSA doesn’t want access logged, it doesn’t seem implausible that this was the case. So that account of Snowden’s actions doesn’t sound “super-hacker” to me; my understanding of computer security has always been that if your sysadmin is compromised, you’re completely fucked; the whole system has to be open to them in order to do their job.

  6. davidly says:

    Google does their own spying, thank you very much. Regardless of any “course change” how is one to trust a company that manages to scour addresses from completely unrelated email accounts it should not have access to, and then cheekily recommend adding these to your Google+ whateverthefuck?

    • Tarzie says:

      I think most people are aware of that but make a distinction between machines analyzing data for user interface/commercial purposes and machines providing data to an apparatus with a monopoly on violence. Perhaps the distinction is too stark — the problem is the data — but I don’t think it is entirely meaningless.

      • davidly says:

        “Analyzing data” is not what I described–unless you meant that as the going euphemism. I’m talking about stealing private email lists and pretending like all of these “why not add this person” is not the result of hacking. Given that mendacity seems to be the default setting of the company, I’d say the distinction is a lot closer to meaningless than not too stark.

      • Tarzie says:

        “Analyzing data” is not what I described–unless you meant that as the going euphemism. I’m talking about stealing private email lists and pretending like all of these “why not add this person” is not the result of hacking.

        Ah, gotcha, sort of. I was thinking of interface elements that just work with data you have made available to them. Still not sure I understand the difference between hacking and just using what gmail sees in your mail, which most people know Google is looking at anyway. Sorry to be thick, but can you be more clear on what Google is doing that constitutes hacking? Is Google using applications to tunnel into data that users have not freely exposed to them?

      • davidly says:

        Sure: First of all, lemme say that while I obviously have had a Google account for some time now, which they acquired with the integration of Blogger, and then eventually migrated to +, I do not use gmail at all. Never have. Never exported any addresses into the account. Period. Nobody except Google and whoever they have given that address to have ever written to it.

        Nevertheless, they somehow acquired–and I know I’m not the only one–a whole slew of addresses from the private account I do use, addresses I never would have wanted to share with anyone. How did I find out? When they integrated YooToob the other day, the place I normally check for messages took me to “my Plus setup page” upon which, viola, the aforementioned address appeared with recommendations that they might just be people I know.

        Now, is it possible that it was less a case of hacking and more a case of acquisition or bribery–that my provider sold me out? Anything is possible, but Google still did what they did, and they are not about to stop.

      • Tarzie says:

        Thanks for the explanation. This has been a useful exchange.

  7. Hieroglyph says:

    I’m afraid these techs are guilty, as boffins often are, of not seeing the wood for the trees. Intelligence is a funny thing. Your average Google engineer is smarter than I am, and I applaud their nerdy boffin brain. I like smart people, I have smart friends, I am happy that smart people exist, and can add to the general good. Without smart people, the world would look like Game of Thrones, without the cool dragons.

    However, a high IQ gave nobody wisdom. Indeed, one can argue that it often does precisely the opposite. And these Google engineers appear not to see what their company actually does. Google sells advertising slots, and to do so garners a huge amount of personal data about the end users. Google is a spying machine, used for profit. It is also, of course, a filter. There is, I’m sure, a whole other story about the Google filter, and how it is used to disappear unwelcome facts down the memory hole, how the security agencies trawl through unwelcome pages, and how Google facilities the disappearace of unwelcome sites. And this whole other story will be called a ‘conspiracy’ theory, until it’s proved right. But even without this other story, Google remains a particularly effective tool for spying, and your Google tech appears to have sublimated this knowledge, just as Greenwald appears to have sublimated the knowledge that the Silicon Mandela is not his friend, and is not to be trusted.

    As I say: high IQ is a funny thing. These Google tech, absurdly, also appear to believe the bulshit emanating from HQ. I don’t. At all. The questions to be asked of Google\Microsoft\Apple are numerous. How hard, really, did they fight? Did they go to the mat, put it on the line, say ‘fuck that’, and fight with everything they had to protect their users? I appreciate they have to abide by the law, but they also have a roster of super smart lawyers, and a bottomless pit of lawyer dollar to expend, and are in the unusual position of being able to put up a fight. After all, they were being forced into essentially breaking the law in order to abide by the law, and their smart lawyers know it. We don’t know of course. But it looks to me that, after a suitable period of pretence, they rolled over to get their tummies tickled. Good Doggie. And now they’ve been caught, the endless perfect sentence structure of PR horse-bollocks has begun, and we will all be beaten down by the perfection of the sentence, and the bollocks of the horse, and worry about something else.

    And, does Greenwald really take this nonsense at face value? That would be very strange indeed, coming from somone supportive of Wikileaks. Curiouser and curiouser, as the tale has it.

    And that Silber article made me laugh. I love the rich, really.

    • Tarzie says:

      Great comment. You seem pretty smart to me.

      The questions to be asked of Google\Microsoft\Apple are numerous. How hard, really, did they fight? Did they go to the mat, put it on the line, say ‘fuck that’, and fight with everything they had to protect their users?

      It’s remarkable the pass these companies have gotten. Clearly we are seeing the NSA bad-appled on behalf of their commercial co-conspirators and people are eating it up. In addition to wanting to know more about the NSA ‘partners’ I want to know more about the companies that haven’t been named, that also would seem to have oodles of useful data. What about Twitter? What about eBay? What about PayPal? What about Amazon? Surely these companies have had dealings with the NSA, but no one wants to know.

      It’s remarkable how lazy the journalism is on this. On the right, they don’t know what the right questions are, since they’re only concerned with national security and patriotism. On the left, they’re just overjoyed we’re having ‘the debate’ and that Captain Glenn is resuscitating journalism by way of being extremely bad at it. Clearly these people love the resistance spectacle, and require only the bare minimum in actual information and actual resistance.

      • diane says:

        The cognitive dissonance is pretty stunning.

        For just one example, why do EFF ([The] Electronic Frontier Foundation) and the ACLU (The American Civil Liberties Union) find the need to have a Face Fiend page, as well known as they are on the net? Most particularly when (at least EFF) has a whole slew of pieces regarding stunningly ugly FaceFiend privacy violations?

        Not to even mention the fact that FaceFiend has been allowed to Monetize social discourse, in the most violating, degrading, punitive and vulgar manner possible.

        I am not able to wrap my mind ( and certainly not my affection) around any of it, and I will bet my life that it isn’t just because I am now over fifty.

      • Tarzie says:

        It is kind of weird that the ACLU has a Facebook page while some of their own privacy gurus recommend against it. This is a classic conflict for activists: how much do you comply with a fucked up system in order to fight or reform it. I tend to agree with you that for any privacy organization, having a Facebook page is just a compromise too far. It’s feeding the beast and sending off a very bad message to constituents.

      • diane says:

        Two clarifications to my last comment:

        1. I probably should have ‘bolded’ the word “is,” in the sentence: The cognitive dissonance is pretty stunning., to fully clarify (for those who tend to just briefly scan, because they are short on time) that I was agreeing with your comment.

        2. I never really expected a (Clinton/Gore/TECHNOLOGY Will Save us! Era) organization named [The] Electronic Frontier Foundation to actually respect the privacy of the voiceless populace, and they have certainly proved me right.

      • remotery says:

        The only thing people can really do is boycott their services. One has to remember that google’s only valuable commodity is their users and their data. Spread the word, shift over to other providers. I’m sure it will slowly play out like this, and that peoples, probably more so outside of the US, have already stopped using google. That’s the only way to change their methods, or develop new methods. Incentivize privacy. Google obviously worries about this and is trying to cover their tracks, to maintain a level of trust by putting the blame squarely on the NSA. Google rose to prominence in only 10 years time, and can probably unravel in the same.

      • Tarzie says:

        Yeah, definitely unplugging from these companies, regardless of what measures they say they’re taking, seems like an obvious basic step.

        I think the message really should be that data aggregation is just bad and there’s no making it something else.

        Thing is, Google provides a robust array of applications for free and a lot of people are just going to think the trade-off is worth it. Unplugging is likely to be more expensive since, as you note, revenues are generated by the aggregated data. Unfortunately most of us are all mixed up in other people’s data too, so no matter what steps we take individually, a lot of our data is still readily available via users of Google, Apple, Facebook etc, to say nothing of the government’s own huge repositories.

        It’s fucked up.

      • diane says:

        Agree wholeheartedly in Boycotting. For the life of me I don’t understand why persons don’t boycott Google, et al far more than they do. I’m very glad I weaned myself from youtube (thank you much for that link, Nitasha Tiku!) a few years back.

        As far as Google’s rise to prominence, actually, it took more than ten years. The seed of Google was the Stanford Digital Library Project, funded by US taxpayers (ya gotta just love that Garage story though). I can’t imagine what might go wrong with an oligarchic, for profit entity owning the worlds digital ‘library.’

        And Brin certainly chose the perfect partner in Woj, whose company (which she co-founded, and which Google funded), aspires to hold the largest world dna database.

      • remotery says:

        Ya, it’s surely f’ed up. But there was a time before extremely targeted advertising. You can still generate ad revenue even if the ad isn’t based on your 20 previous searches, or your 1,000 previous searches, or, terrifyingly, what you just wrote in an email to a friend.

        A company that provides search or email without collecting user data might not be getting the most value out of its ad space, but if people only accept that method of non-targeted advertising, search and email companies will be forced to accept a slightly reduced bottom line. And anyway if the company gets enough users, that will still be a pretty hefty bottom line. So if society starts funneling their “user ad dollars” to privacy based companies, doing so will put those funds into the development of more privacy based apps, and so on and so forth. Now the task, admittedly rather difficult these days, becomes convincing people that it’s worth it to sacrifice a little convenience in the short term for better privacy and a better internet in the long term.

      • Tarzie says:

        Now the task, admittedly rather difficult these days, becomes convincing people that it’s worth it to sacrifice

        I dunno. Google and co are just the tip of the iceberg. People are giving up so much data all the time and most of them don’t give two shits what happens to it. And like I said, they’re giving up our data too whether we’ve opted out or not. I believe in boycotting these PRISM partners, but the problem is soooo much bigger.

      • diane says:

        …they’re giving up our data too whether we’ve opted out or not.

        Yes, that is the worse part of it, and much of it (though there is certainly plenty blame to go around regarding acquaintances who feel they have the right to share one’s digital contact info/other personal data/photos/protest arrest records with everyone and anyone) is a result of being an employee somewhere, where one’s ‘record’ and ‘communications’ – whether personal or not, hideously erroneous or not – are digitalized into an infinity of mergers and acquisitions.

        I will never forget my utter disgust when realizing, the first week on a job, that if anyone I loved had left a message on my cubicle phone, it would have been switched to and entrapped – for as long as the entity stayed alive in one form or another – on the email databank; despite the fact that recording one’s personal conversations is technically illegal. Thank goodness, I had long since stopped giving my work number to people to reach me at.

        Not that I at all care for cell phones, which, it seems to me, were one of the most invasive communications methods welcomed by the NSA, et al. If I’m not mistaken it marked the era of person’s personal messages being sucked up by “the cloud.” No more private home answering machines where one might keep their phone messages from being listened to. Though, even there, companies like radio shack installed unchangeable, remote control phone message accessible “passwords,” Mine was “123” and when I, enraged, contacted Radio Shack, to ask them how a password could be assigned and unchangeable, versus chosen and changeable upon need, they had the fucking balls to not only justify it but inform me, in so many words, that a multitude of persons had the same 123 password and they were quite satisfied.

      • diane says:

        uugh, haste makes waste, my actual meaning was:

        … they had the fucking balls to not only hideously and sociopathically attempt to justify it but inform me, in so many words, that a multitude of persons had the same 123 password and they were quite satisfied.

        As to haste: unfortunately, most of us (“the populace”), have been forced into hasty and enraged utterances, and decisions we’ve not enough time to evaluate, no time allowed whatsoever for rest, …. to meditate and think about things, …… for fear of not being able to stay healthy, keep food in our mouths or a roof over our heads.

        Quite unlike those pulling the strings and demanding those stunning rents.

      • remotery says:

        Ya it’s a big problem. Right now mass communications and information are controlled by a few large corporations in league with the government. But while society tends in that direction, the internet itself is remarkably free and adaptable. One has to start somewhere, and if you think about it, every time you use a privacy oriented search engine (company x) instead of google to perform a search, you are taking some “ad dollars” that usually go to google, and giving them to company x. If everyone did this, hypothetically, google would cease to exist and company x could invest more in making their search better (who knows maybe even encrypted), and more competitive in terms of results. It won’t change overnight and this isn’t a magic wand to end all internet surveillance, but it’s something nonetheless, and something to give a little agency back to the user.

        And true most people don’t care what happens with their data, but making them care is the task at hand. I’m really quite mad at Greenwald for that. He’s sitting on a gold mine of privacy-violation-outrage, and instead digging it up and spreading the wealth, he’s hoarding it for future use, at which time potential outrage may have already become acceptance.

      • Tarzie says:

        He’s sitting on a gold mine of privacy-violation-outrage, and instead digging it up and spreading the wealth, he’s hoarding it for future use, at which time potential outrage may have already become acceptance.

        If his recent tweets are any example, he is full-on covering for private industry already, along with other members of the Leaknoscenti, like Appelbaum. Don’t expect even stale revelations when the book drops.

      • diane says:

        Quite unlike those pulling the strings and demanding those stunning rents.

        deliberately unaffordable, stunningly degrading and life threatening rents – charged to the proclaimed ‘tenants’ – if they want to survive in the stolen realm which they, the tenants, had actually made so very livable and desirable.

  8. Thomas Lord says:

    Here is another way to see it (why Google, for one, should not exist):

    If a private entity builds what Google has built and, secretly, a few key players with power in the organization decide “let’s be evil” — the danger is huge. Google’s aggregated data (all those email accounts, search histories, on-line activity tracks) can be stealthily *weaponized* to the extent it can be a serious threat to individuals, corporations, nations…. It’s different from if they were doing a lot of genetic engineering behind locked doors or a lot of uranium refining behind locked doors but the risks are of similar magnitude. They can be weaponized.

    Given that, wouldn’t you expect and even kinda, sorta, as the less worse options *want* a powerful gov’t like the US to infiltrate them, develop collaborators w/in their organization, and pretty much try to “pwn” them?

    Given that, doesn’t it stand to reason that either Google can shut out NSA attempts to nab their aggregated data — in which case they are a terrible threat because of their unchecked potential for weaponization; or Google can’t shut out the NSA and is just full of bullshit when they suggest they can?

    The only way to avoid this dilemma, as far as I can see, is to not collect and aggregate that data in the first place.

    Or, maybe not. Maybe it’s enough for people if Eric and Sergey stand up before microphones and say the would Never, Never be bad like that?

    • Tarzie says:

      as far as I can see, is to not collect and aggregate that data in the first place.

      Yeah, I agree. The aggregation of data is the problem. How do you combat that, though?

      • Thomas Lord says:

        I don’t know. I would like to see the existential question for this kind of business — as a class, not on a case by case basis — become the main popular question.

    • diane says:

      I’m astounded, still, that those two have gotten totally off of the hook from being proclaimed sociopaths (both of whose home windows are likely not invaded upon by – originally CIA/in-Q -Tel/Keyhole entity based – Google Earth) for their mind boggling desire to destroy everyone’s privacy but their own.

      Europe certainly was outraged, not a fricken peep in the US news though.

      • diane says:

        not a fricken peep in the US news though.

        Via hardcopy newspaper, tv, radio, or (even more disgusting, since it was all touted to be so ‘populist’ at the end of the day) pixelated: “Salon,” tech infatuated ‘go to’ blawger site, et al, news.

    • diane says:

      My elderly mother had some well to do FUCKER from her Chicago high school reunion, who she hadn’t wanted to date, and certainly passed up for my dad, call her and let her know, from Chicago, what the building she lives in looks like, right down to some horrifying details ….. she had not a clue how ugly things had gotten …how very stunningly violating.

  9. Tarzie says:

    It’s different from if they were doing a lot of genetic engineering behind locked doors or a lot of uranium refining behind locked doors but the risks are of similar magnitude. They can be weaponized.

    I am not sure that this comparison is apt, since these other things you mention haven’t brought about catastrophes yet, which is really rather curious when you think about it.

  10. Trish says:

    Great post as usual and great information in the comments.

    It is interesting what GG snark attacks on his twitter feed: the article by Reuters on snowden getting passwords, and what he posts without comment – the article about google being very, very “outraged” about nsa. Given his propensity to go on the attack on stories that he thinks are BS, his silence when posting links to obvious BS from Google does make you wonder.

    As for the story in reuters its rather strange, but maybe it is just to the fog. Reminded me about your other post and how it is obviously BS that within several months of downloading somewhere in the region of 100,000 docs, Snowden had vetted all of them. The other thing i have always found odd is that several months after Snowden did this, nobody within NSA realized that someone had downloaded 100k of documents? The biggest spy agency in the world wasn’t worried that its system could be vulnerable from the inside. Double Agents are as old as spying and at the very least you would think they might worry that some employees could be working for more than one govt or entity? Maybe, unlike the NSA i am too paranoid, lol

    All very strange

    • Tarzie says:

      Given his propensity to go on the attack on stories that he thinks are BS, his silence when posting links to obvious BS from Google does make you wonder.

      Yeah, well, I don’t recall Glenn ever being a big attacker of corporate power. Remember, his free speech advocacy includes free speech for corporations. To the extent that Glenn has any interest in the mass surveillance issue beyond reinventing himself and journalism, I think he is inclined to bad apple the NSA, at least for the moment. That’s an easier story to tell and sell. We’ve been promised that his book will expose new revelations on corporate collusion, but that doesn’t come out until March of next year, and since embarking on that project, he’s married Silicon Valley. So who knows where that’s headed. Assuming the book does have genuinely damning disclosures, I’m sure Google and others appreciate the eight months Greenwald gave them to cover their tracks and clean up their act.

      The biggest spy agency in the world wasn’t worried that its system could be vulnerable from the inside.

      I’m sure they are. That doesn’t mean they can’t be breached. Of all the ‘limited hangout’ type theories, the idea that Snowden is doing this under the NSA’s auspices is the least credible.

      • Trish says:

        Oh, I don’t think snowden was doing this for NSA. Just blows my mind that they were unaware that snowden had downloaded the information until the stories started to appear. While snowden was doing it for the “greater good” one has to assume if he snowden could do this then how many others have done on behalf of govts around the world. One would have to assume it is likely and rather than focusing on snowden giving information to Russia and China questions should have also been asked about the possibility that the russians, Chinese etc already had their snowden clones inside nsa.

        Anyway i digress. Thanks for the great post

      • Tarzie says:

        rather than focusing on snowden giving information to Russia and China questions should have also been asked about the possibility that the russians, Chinese etc already had their snowden clones inside nsa.

        Yeah. It seems like there are bound to be malefactors of every shade in the security apparatus and also inside corporate partners like Google. The NSA has fired most of its sysadmins apparently, but that was framed as a measure to prevent more whistleblowing. You’ve made an interesting point about how little concern there seems to be about breaches by anything but other whistleblowers. So much of what’s wrong with this story is in the questions that aren’t asked. Really lazy, subservient journalism from right to left.

  11. Thomas Lord says:

    Thing is, Google provides a robust array of applications for free and a lot of people are just going to think the trade-off is worth it.

    Google has a lot of big institutional clients that make this problem worse. For example, at UC Berkeley the email accounts of faculty, staff, and students are hosted by Google. An “@berkeley.edu” address is really a gmail address in disguise.

    It’s not just Google, of course. A former colleague of mine works as a “chief technologist” or some such title for an email service provider. They have an international presence, clients in multiple countries, and they seem to seek clients like big law firms and health care providers. So there’s an interesting aggregation of email. When I pressed him on how this could possibly be safe from NSA spying his response was basically to shrug and mumble something about how his advice to people is to live in ways that don’t require you to keep secrets.

  12. diane says:

    just touching down to say thank you Tarzie, I believe a lot of silenced voices thank you also.

      • diane says:

        ahh well, and rather embarrassing sometimes, I couldn’t resist, being the human bean I am, … but to continue (up thread), as you were posting your above comment, …..sighhhh, …. :0) ,


      • diane says:

        (sorry dear that was a typo on the bogus email addy, I was sooprised to see that monetary green, identifying ‘avatar’, (who knew, when they were born, that they would ultimately have a monetizing avatar, much like IBM’s Nazi tattoos, ascribed to them, ….permanently?) also, I much prefer that purple freezed snowflake, if I’m to be assigned a tattoo ……. )

  13. dmantis says:

    This has been, by far, the most interesting thread to any of these posts. Thanks to all who have posted.

    It is apparent from these comments that the ulitimate conclusion to all of this was never about Snowden, GG or the NSA documents themselves. It was simply about how much of our privacy were we UNKNOWINGLY giving up when doing anything online. As mentioned above, the focus should be on the corporations responsible for the data collection itself: Google, Verizon, Apple, AT&T etc. It is thus a very scary task to try to disconnect and marginalize the system of collection.

    Nevertheless, speaking of the fallacy of ‘inteligence’ and ‘smart people’, the only silver lining I see in this whole story was the very thing that gave some others pause. Namely, that (if the story is true) Snowden could have perpetrated the entire act simply by asking some people for access at the vending machine. This is the level of our surveliance state. Any super deathstar like tech the NSA possesses can be undermined by a highschool dropout who was really “good with computers”.

    • Tarzie says:

      Namely, that (if the story is true) Snowden could have perpetrated the entire act simply by asking some people for access at the vending machine.

      Except the story’s probably not true, though Snowden did say he could undermine the system entirely in 15 minutes, but that wasn’t his goal. His goal was The Debate, the glorious Debate. I imagine the system is full of holes and shittiness, mainly because I believe the main function of the surveillance apparatus is to hoover up money. Hoovering up data is secondary, hence probably not done as efficiently and competently as taxpayer extortion. But throw enough money at a problem and eventually the job gets done. The IC has to justify that 60 billion dollar budget somehow.

      • dmantis says:

        I agree completely. Shittiness and holes gives me comfort, strangely.

        I also don’t deny Snowden’s flawed motives. Debates are meaningless when the hoovering is already accomplished and acceptance is implied by the click on the “terms and conditions” window.

    • dmantis says:

      By the way, I did not mean to disparage highschool dropouts. Quite the contrary considering my own meager background. I was just attempting to highlight the fact that tech juggernauts like Google who pride themselves on being the smartest geeks at the geek conventions, are covering their tracks from the aftermath of a guy with a relatively normal background.

      Entities like Google and the NSA want us to believe they are as inpenetrable as they are made to seem in the media. It always does my heart good when they are shown to be anything but.

  14. diane says:

    Just touching bases to send a hug, life has become very unsettling, uncertain ….. and many times horrifyingly lonely (seeming) for so very many of us, especially when attempting to fight the powers that be.

    Know you are loved, honey.

      • diane says:

        any time dear, but really, Thank you. You cannot imagine how long I have been waiting for The Silicon Valley ‘Culture’ to be punctured, for the hideous, stunningly Moneyed and Militaristic monstrosity that it actually is.

        Worse, thousands end up stuck in that culture and penniless, as they are are required, under capitalism, to follow the jawbs, only to become punished ‘Wards of THE STATE,’ …or, be dumped out onto ‘the streets’ and criminalized at the end of the day.

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