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April 2, 2024

Google and Government Go Hand in Hand

Big Brother Google is watching you — and perhaps even sharing your YouTube viewership habits with the federal government.

If you’re one of the many people who like to get their information from YouTube videos, this story is for you.

For years, we’ve been documenting how Google has abandoned its longtime mantra of “Don’t Be Evil” for a squishier one, “Do the right thing.” To those with a point of view like Google’s, though, the “right thing” may not be what’s truly right.

The Big Tech titan’s latest controversy was stirred up by a piece in Forbes detailing how Google folded like a lawn chair when the federal government and other law enforcement agencies requested information on those who watched certain videos and livestreams. As the story leads off, “Privacy experts from multiple civil rights groups told Forbes they think the orders are unconstitutional because they threaten to turn innocent YouTube viewers into criminal suspects.” Ya think?

The videos in question, as described by Michael Crider at PC World, were “tutorials on mapping via drones and augmented reality software.” It’s an interesting (if somewhat esoteric) topic, but the video drew thousands of views — and the interest of federal investigators as part of a case in which a YouTube user known as “elonmuskwhm” is suspected of selling bitcoin for cash. (The federal government apparently considers this otherwise private transaction as money laundering.)

Thus, Google was asked to turn over information — not just usernames and IP addresses but also personal data such as names, addresses, and user activity — on everyone who watched these videos over the course of a week. This means that thousands of innocent people came under the watchful scrutiny of the federal government for simply checking out what they thought may be an interesting video.

But it’s not just the federal government. A second incident stemmed from a local police request for information on those who “viewed and/or interacted” with various YouTube livestreams watching authorities searching for explosives in a trashcan. People looking to strike it rich on an exciting “live” video they could monetize were looking for action but may have found themselves later answering a knock on the door from local law enforcement, thanks to Google.

While civil libertarian groups are already outraged about the invasion of privacy, most folks still view it as a case of “if you have nothing to hide, you won’t have to worry.” But how far did that attitude get those who had legitimate business near the Capitol on January 6, 2021, yet were surely investigated as part of the J6 probe simply because their cellphone signal pinged in the area?

Speaking of January 6, consider how strongly the federal government fought against the release of video footage of the Capitol that day, citing security concerns. Yet officials are coercing Google into cooperating with their investigations, regardless of how much of a fishing expedition it is.

Here’s the point: Today, it’s about unlawful bitcoin sales. Tomorrow, it may be about political or public health disinformation. In either case, it’s downright creepy and worth pondering.

Sadly, our nation has come to this, but the next time you watch a YouTube video, you might want to think twice lest you get vacuumed up onto a federal government watch list.

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