Saturday, June 8, 2013

Big Brother Google Goes Hollywood

By Steve Evans

With The Internship, a new film starring Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, Hollywood sets a new standard in the execrable practice of product placement. It appears the entire film is a product placement.

The Internship revolves around two fortysomething guys desperately trying to get a job at Google. It’s supposed to be a comedy, with two stars who specialize in playing lovable lunkheads (Wedding Crashers, anyone?).

CNN reports that Google gave the filmmakers extensive access to company headquarters (although much of the movie was actually shot in Atlanta at the Georgia Institute of Technology, not the Google campus in Mountainview, California). More than 100 Google employees served as extras. An array of Google products and services will also be promoted throughout the film.

Although Google allegedly did not pay for this extensive product placement, the company reportedly had a say in how Google and its brand would be depicted on screen. Still, news reporters who play up the fact that Google didn’t pay for this free exposure are missing the point: the exposure itself is invaluable.

Google is one of the most profitable and widely recognized companies on earth. It also collects and stores data from billions of computer users worldwide. If you have ever used any Google product, whether it is the company’s ubiquitous search engine, Gmail, Google drive, Google plus, ad nauseaum, you had best believe that Google knows more about you than you might like. If you send a Google email to a friend and casually mention you’re in the market for a new car, it is no coincidence that advertising for car dealerships and automotive financing immediately appears on your email dashboard.

If ever there was a commercial enterprise capable of colluding with the government and evolving into Big Brother, it is Google. More people depend on the Google search engine than virtually all other competitors combined (Yahoo, Bing,, etc.). Google collects and sifts through all this search data. Whatever you are looking for online, Google knows – and keeps good records.

Sounds paranoid?

This week The Guardian newspaper published a classified court document from April authorizing the U.S. government to seize all of Verizon’s phone records on a daily basis. Although the government allegedly didn’t eavesdrop on anyone, Verizon supplied all outgoing and incoming numbers for millions of phone calls, plus the unique electronic codes that identify individual cellphones.

All of this was done by the National Security Agency under the auspices of The Patriot Act. The spying has been known publicly since The New York Times reported on it in 2005. But the government always insisted that it was narrow and designed to keep Americans safe. I wonder whether reasonable people would agree that collecting the records on millions of phone numbers is a "narrow" use of Patriot Act powers.

Less than 24 hours after The Guardian report, The Washington Post broke the story about another government spying initiative currently underway and code-named PRISM. Authorized by a secret court order, this cute little program allows the NSA and FBI to tap directly into the servers of major U.S. Internet companies, including Apple, AOL. Facebook, Microsoft – and Google. The purpose? To gather email content, instant messages, video chats and virtually all other forms of online communication.

All of this is being done in the name of fighting terrorism and protecting American sovereignty, of course. Google, meanwhile, burnishes its image as a benign and benevolent purveyor of information, with slick marketing campaigns dressed up as popular entertainment for people unencumbered by deep thought.

The timing of this new movie, released yesterday, couldn't be better.

While moviegoers shuffle off to see The Internship, an unabashed valentine to the search-engine giant, I’ll be holding out hope that some enterprising producer will make a documentary about PRISM. Failing that, I’ll take a thriller about malicious government persecution in the digital age, where people voluntarily reveal the most personal details of their lives, typed up neatly in an email or into a search-engine box, and then press that little key labeled “enter." Little do they know how these queries might be used against them.

Perhaps that’s a paradox. People can hardly demand privacy when they willingly post everything about their lives on Facebook.

Truth be told, this blog is hosted on a Google server. If I should suddenly disappear from this space please contact deijeo7johrg...

Cinema Uprising copyright © 2013 by Steve Evans. All rights reserved.

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