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“Torture the data, and it will confess to anything.” – Ronald Coase
Have you seen WhatsApps updated privacy terms when you open the app on your phone? Maybe you have, perhaps you have not. However, WhatsApp will start forcing its users to share personal data with Facebook, their parent company. Users who do not accept the new terms by February 8th will no longer have access to the WhatsApp application.
It does not come as a surprise since all the major giants of Silicon Valley; Google, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft etc. are deeply integrated with US intelligence agencies, as mentioned in our article on data privacy and security.
In 2013, Edward Snowden, an employee of the National Security Agency (NSA), revealed that the US government was running a vast Internet surveillance program and tapping every major Silicon Valley platform and company— Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon including mobile games like Angry Birds.
The most astonishing programme revealed by Snowden’s disclosures is called PRISM, which involves a sophisticated on-demand data tap housed within the datacenters of the biggest and most respected names in Silicon Valley: Google, Apple, Facebook, Yahoo!, and Microsoft.
These devices allow the National Security Agency (NSA) to extract whatever the agency requires, including emails, attachments, chats, address books, files, photographs, audio files, search activity, and mobile phone location history.
Edward Snowden also revealed the Mass Metadata Surveillance System of America’s NSA in his documents. Let us suppose if the NSA had found someone dialling a number of an al Qaeda member, and assume that this person had phoned 100 other people over the previous 5 years, that would mean the NSA could start tracking not only the suspect’s calls but also calls of those 100 other people. If each of those people called 100 people, NSA could track their calls too, and that would put (100 times 100) 10,000 people on the agency’s screen.
In the third hop, the analysts could trace the calls of those 10,000 people and the calls that they had made—or (10,000 times 100) 1 million people. In other words, active surveillance of a suspect could put a million people under the agency’s watch.
Similarly, the British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) gathers data equivalent of all the books in the British Library, sent 192 times every 24 hrs under the Project “Tempora” by infiltrating the fibre optic cables that transport Internet traffic between UK, North America, South America and Europe.
In an article by Business Insider, dated January 7th 2020, Elon Musk urged people to switch from WhatsApp to Signal. Snowden also promoted Tor and Signal in 2017, and his promotion boosted its users from 1 million to 6 million. Still, he never told us that the US Navy developed Tor to disguise spies on the internet.
In 2011, Tor was funded $503,706 by Pentagon. Funds doubled to $2.2 million in 2012. Tor signed heavy government contracts in 2012: $353,000 from the State Department, $876,099 from the US Navy, and $937,800 from the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). Why was the government pouring in such a humongous amount to a network which was ‘apparently’ fighting global surveillance of the internet by the US? Reality is not what it seems.
Also, Google, Amazon, Microsoft have been assisting NSA in surveillance programmes and have supplied technology to develop weapons. The following are a few examples:
- In 2007, Google partnered with Lockheed Martin to design a visual intelligence system for NGA that displayed US military bases in Iraq and marked out Sunni and Shiite neighbourhoods in Baghdad.
- In 2008 Google won the contract to run the servers and search technology that powered the CIA’s Intellipedia, an intelligence database modelled after Wikipedia that was collaboratively edited by the NSA, CIA, FBI, and other federal agencies. Not long after that, Google contracted with the US Army to equip fifty thousand soldiers with a customized mobile Google services suite.
- In 2010, Google won a no-bid exclusive $27 million contract to provide the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA) with “geospatial visualization services” effectively making the Internet giant the “eyes” of America’s defence and intelligence apparatus.
- According to Shane Harris in his book, @War: The Rise of the Internet-Military Complex, “In 2010, Google entered into a secretive agreement with the NSA. “According to officials who were privy to details of Google’s arrangements with the NSA, the company agreed to provide information about traffic on its networks in exchange for intelligence from the NSA about what it knew of foreign hackers.”
- In 2012, as the civil war in Syria intensified and American support for rebel forces increased, Google’s ‘JigSaw’ brainstormed ways it could help push Bashar al-Assad from power. Among them: a tool that visually maps high-level defections from Assad’s government.
- Amazon founder Jeff Bezos used his wealth to launch Blue Origin, a missile company that partners with Lockheed Martin and Boeing.
- Amazon also runs cloud computing and storage services for the CIA. The initial contract, signed in 2013, was worth $600 million and was later expanded to include the NSA and a dozen other US intelligence agencies.
- Facebook too has links with the military. Its secretive “Building 8” research division is involved in everything from artificial intelligence to drone-based wireless Internet networks. Facebook is betting big on virtual reality as the user interface of the future.
- Facebook’s Oculus virtual reality headset has already been integrated into DARPA’s Plan X, which is a $110 million project to build an immersive, entirely virtual reality environment to fight cyberwars. DARPA is the ‘Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’ of the US Department of Defence.
- Google’s military work, reveals that it has been selling Google Search, Google Earth, and Google Enterprise (G Suite) products to every major US military and intelligence agency: Navy, Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, DARPA, NSA, FBI, DEA, CIA, NGA and State Department.
It is quite evident that the most prominent and most respected Internet companies have been working in secret to funnel data on hundreds of thousands of users to America’s NSA, revealing by extension the vast amounts of personal data that these companies collected on their users.
When you are not paying for the product, you are the product.
References and Great Reads:
- “Surveillance valley: the secret military history of the internet” by Yasha Levine
- “Inside the Enemy’s Computer: Identifying Cyber Attackers” by Clement Guitton
- “@War: The Rise of the Internet-Military Complex” by Shane Harris
- “Permanent Record” by Edward Snowden
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