‘Google’s colossal stores of data on daily movements of Americans, coupled with the might of local, state, and federal governments is an alarming prospect…’
(Michael Barnes, Liberty Headlines) The House Freedom Caucus is sounding the alarm against a Wuhan coronavirus safety measure that amounts to a global civil liberties threat.
But totalitarian governments aren’t behind it—Google is.
The Silicon Valley tech behemoth announced last week that it will use its vast resources and data collection capabilities to track everyday people around the world and publish their movements online.
The stated purpose of Google’s “Community Mobility Reports” program is to provide data and insights to governments so they can “make critical decisions to combat COVID-19.”
That includes providing government officials with tracking information that shows whether people are obeying or disobeying social distancing edicts.
In a letter to President Donald Trump on Friday, the Freedom Caucus said the initiative was “frightfully detailed, specific, and granular.”
NEWS: @freedomcaucus members warn that privacy matters–even and especially in times of crisis.
See thread for full text of the letter to @realDonaldTrump. pic.twitter.com/MIWT1mZOYx
— House Freedom Caucus (@freedomcaucus) April 10, 2020
More than providing big picture patterns, the program will track people’s movements outside of their homes, including trips to grocery stores, coffee shops, parks, retailers, libraries, pharmacies, transit stops, workplaces and other homes.
The potential for abuse is stunning—even in the United States, the Freedom Caucus warns.
The tracking data could be a boon for repressive foreign regimes, and it could also be misused in places like Michigan where Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has banned “travel between two residences.”
Social media has helped expose previously unthinkable government crackdowns for even the slightest social-distancing transgressions, such as maritime police boats racing to arrest a paddleboarder, a law enforcement officer chasing an individual jogger, and handcuffing a man playing tee-ball with his six-year-old daughter at a public park.
The COVID-19 Community Mobility website could serve to multiply these incidents.
“Google’s colossal stores of data on daily movements of Americans, coupled with the might of local, state, and federal governments is an alarming prospect,” the Freedom Caucus wrote.
“We are a people with a limited government charged to secure the rights of its citizens,” the letter continued. “The civil liberties guaranteed to Americans include preservation of privacy—and that must not be violated.”
Google captures roughly 90 percent of all search-engine use in the United States. Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc., ranks as the fourth most valuable corporation in America, behind Microsoft, Apple and Amazon.
It also works with human-rights violators like the Chinese Communist Party to censor the internet and produce surveillance-oriented search engines.
Billionaire tech investor Peter Thiel, a Trump ally and co-founder of the site Paypal, has also warned about Google.
Last year, Thiel penned a New York Times editorial blasting the tech giant for building an artificial-intelligence lab in Beijing while refusing to work with the Pentagon.
In a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Marines Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Google was assisting an adversary.
“The work that Google is doing in China is indirectly benefiting the Chinese military,” Dunford said before re-characterizing his statement: “Frankly, ‘indirect’ may be not a full characterization of the way it really is, it is more of a direct benefit to the Chinese military.”
Google says its COVID-19 social-distancing tracking website will cover 131 countries, as well as individual counties within certain states. Data will mostly come from the “location history” of Google consumer products and services, the company says.
At present, Google users (including other Alphabet-related ventures like the Chrome web browser, Gmail, Youtube and a line of phones using the Android operating system) have the option to pause or delete their location histories when logged into their accounts.
However, Google has been exposed in the past for being less-than-forthcoming with its privacy controls. And there is no indication that a person’s private data might not be posted or aggregated anonymously, even if the individual has opted out of user-specific data collection.
The 14-member Freedom Caucus contends the practice of intimately tracking everyday Americans already raises serious constitutional privacy concerns. But providing that information to governments to enforce severe Wuhan virus social-distancing rules is beyond the pale.
“Our nation is great because of our dedication to individual liberty, self-government, and freedom for all. In times of crisis, we cannot abandon the very things that make us great,” they said.