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If you have not seen this bombshell  that was dropped by The Intercept last week, you need to go back and read it right now.  The article is detailing Google’s relationship with the White House- and it is a showstopper.  Really, Read The Whole Thing.

google WH obama

Some of the highlights that pertain to student data privacy:

“Another potential conflict arises from the enormous amount of data that Google and the government each have stored on American citizens. Google recently acknowledged having mined the data of student users of its education apps, and has been accused repeatedly of violating user privacy in other contexts. An overly close partnership risks Google putting its data in the government’s hands or gaining access to what the government has collected.

Most notably, Google has faced questions for years about exercising its market power to squash rivals, infringing on its users’ privacy rights, favoring its own business affiliates in search results, and using patent law to create barriers to competition. Even Republican senators like Orrin Hatch have called out Google for its practices.

In 2012, staff at the Federal Trade Commission recommended filing antitrust charges after determining that Google was engaging in anti-competitive tactics and abusing its monopoly. A [FTC] staff report that was later leaked said Google’s conduct “has resulted — and will result — in real harm to consumers and to innovation in the online search and advertising markets.”

The Wall Street Journal noted that Google’s White House visits increased right around that time. And in 2013, the presidentially appointed commissioners of the FTC overrode their staff, voting unanimously not to file any charges.

Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, said the [White House] administration “has been a huge help” to Google both by protecting it from attempts to limit its market power and by blocking privacy legislation. “Google has been able to thwart regulatory scrutiny in terms of anti-competitive practices, and has played a key role in ensuring that the United States doesn’t protect at all the privacy of its citizens and its consumers,” Chester said.

At a congressional hearing earlier this month, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, citing the possibility of consumer harm, called on the FTC to reconsider the kind of antitrust charges against Google recently filed in Europe.”  -The Intercept   [emphasis added]

So, keeping all that in mind,  let’s move onto another report on Google,  privacy that goes waaay beyond reading your email.

google surveil


…in your schools?

Consider this 2014 article from PandoDaily  and happenings in Oakland, CA. See some of the highlights below, but if you have time, read the full article. There is so much more.

“On February 18, 2014  several hundred privacy, labor, civil rights activists and Black Bloc anarchists packed Oakland’s city hall. They were there to protest the construction of a citywide surveillance center that would turn a firehouse in downtown Oakland into a high-tech intelligence hub straight outta Mission Impossible.”

“Main item on the agenda that night: The “Domain Awareness Center” (DAC) — a federally funded project that, if built as planned, would link up real time audio and video feeds from thousands of sensors across the city — including CCTV cameras in public schools and public housing projects, as well as Oakland Police Department mobile license plate scanners — into one high-tech control hub, where analysts could pipe the data through face recognition software, surveil the city by location and enrich its intelligence with data coming in from local, state and federal government and law enforcement agencies.”

“The anger wasn’t just the standard objection to surveillance — or at least it was, but it had been intensified by a set of documents, obtained through a public records request by privacy activists, that showed city officials were more interested in using DAC’s surveillance capabilities to monitor political protests rather than fighting crime. The evidence was abundant and overwhelming: in email after email, Oakland officials had discussed the DAC usefulness for keeping tabs on activists, monitoring non-violent political protests and minimize port disruption due to union/labor strikes.”

“But buried deep in the thousands of pages of planning documents, invoices and correspondence was something that the activists either seemed to have missed or weren’t concerned by. A handful of emails revealing that representatives from Oakland had met with executives from Google to discuss a partnership between the tech giant and the DAC.  The emails showed that Google, the largest and most powerful megacorp in Surveillance Valley, was among several other military/defense contractors vying for a piece of DAC’s $10.9-million surveillance contracting action.  Here’s an email exchange from October 2013. It is between Scott Ciabattari, a Google “strategic partnership manager,” and Renee Domingo, an Oakland official spearheading the DAC project” (See partial email from Oakland to Google’s Ciabattari  below, read full article/email here.)
oakland email


“Google’s Scott Ciabattari [also] attended the Geospatial Conference of the West in Wyoming in 2013, where he delivered a 30-minute presentation about all the cool intel tech that Google can provide to local, state and federal government agencies.”

“His pitch revolved around Google Earth Enterprise, the company’s flagship intelligence product. He described how Google Earth can be used to integrate disparate data intelligence sources and tie them all in with Google’s mapping technology. Google Earth has been specially designed in close collaboration with the intelligence community (more on that a little later), and is perfectly suited for all kinds of law enforcement uses.
Ciabattari cited a number of examples of how police departments can achieve total information awareness by using Google’s search functionality, which allows them to aggregate and centralize local, county and federal databases, and then grafts all of that intel onto a map. He stressed that Google gives law enforcement access to “information — at the right time, at the right place” — which helps boost safety and efficiency. He also talked about using Google’s big data trend technology to do “predictive policing.”
he is going to do it
Chicago and Boston are a few of the cities also using big data to predict crime before it happens. In this report, “Big Data Has Potential to Both Hurt and Help Disadvantaged Communities”,  the author discusses this policing built on big data and also the dangers in using predictive and hidden algorithms.
“The Chicago Police Department’s experiments with predictive policing have incited worries about unfair profiling in black communities. Boston has tested out situational awareness software, which uses mass surveillance and face-recognition technology as a safety measure for large-scale assembly — with search queries capturing skin tone on a scale of 1-100. Data might also be used in a sort of 21st-century redlining, with banks and healthcare companies using informational leverage to deny service to people living in low-income communities.”
“A big part of what’s happening across society today is that major institutions are increasingly using computers to make the decisions that shape people’s lives. These processes are often opaque,” says David Robinson, of Robinson + Yu, a firm that provides technical expertise to help social justice advocates engaging in big data issues, and that recently released a new report called “Civil Rights, Big Data and Our Algorithmic Future” that points to the possible upsides and pitfalls of this information-based future. “People need to feel a sense of empowerment around these algorithmic processes. I think there’s a real cultural tendency to defer to decisions that come from a computer and to feel like if an algorithm has rendered some decision then it must be fair or we can’t understand it or it shouldn’t be scrutinized.”
“A recent report that he co-authored studied the disparate impact of big data on vulnerable communities. “We need to be extremely sensitive to the very subtle way that things can produce a disparate impact,” says Barocas, “And having that sensitivity means knowing about the data that you’re working with.”

BIG DATA.  Is it getting too big? and too Secret?

Big Data is not always accurate; people should question its use, and should have data transparency. There should be no secret data collection.  Finally, algorithms are not always predictable and to be fair,  look at some of the other known algorithms the software industry uses.  They don’t always work out as planned,  Just ask Microsoft.

To read more on data gathering, predictive policing, surveillance and Resilient Cities, click here.  Check the list to see if your city is “resilient”.

Cheri Kiesecker