by Art Moore
A new film “The Creepy Line,” contends Google and Facebook pose a threat not only to privacy but to the economy and elections. (Available now on Amazon and Amazon Prime Streaming)
Along with showing how the big tech companies “know more about you than your closest relative or friend,” the documentary features peer-reviewed research showing how the data can be used to manipulate opinions about products, services and politicians.
“We may have signed-up for these services, but I doubt anyone expected their data and search habits could or would be used to manipulate them,” said producer M.A. Taylor.
Debuting as President Trump raises the profile of the issue, the film contends Google has crossed its executive chairman’s self-described “creepy line,” not only invading the privacy of millions of users but using its monopolistic stature to suppress conservative views and influence elections.
Peter Schweizer, producer and co-writer of “The Creepy Line,” says that Google’s frequent protestations that it provides a “neutral platform” free of bias… lack credibility.
For years, Schweizer argued, when companies such as Yelp charged that Google was suppressing or manipulating the algorithm on commercial searches to its own benefit, the tech giant repeatedly denied the claims.
“We now know that the Federal Trade Commission, the European Union and private academics have found that that’s exactly what Google is doing,” said Schweizer.
“So, I don’t think Google at this point deserves the benefit of any doubt, because when they have been challenged on this issue in the past, they have not been honest and forthright.”
‘Tremendous power in the hands of two companies’
The foundational research of the film was conducted by Robert Epstein, a behavioral psychologist who was B.F. Skinner’s last Ph.D. student at Harvard.
A 2016 Hillary Clinton supporter, Epstein in 2012 discovered the Search Engine Manipulation Effect, which he described as the one of most dangerous behavioral discoveries ever. It has the power, he said, to manipulate an individual’s opinion without his knowledge.
Epstein found 10 ways Google and Facebook could influence the 2018 U.S. midterm elections.
“We have been trained that what Google presents as the top search result is the best option,” he said. “This becomes even more dangerous as we progress from searches to simply seeking answers from our devices where only one result is presented.”
Epstein said that through continued research, he discovered that Google and Facebook could influence an estimated 12 million votes in this fall’s elections.
“That’s tremendous power in the hands of two companies, and it should concern us all, regardless of political affiliation,” he said.
Schweizer said he discovered Epstein’s research when he became interested in parallels between “Big Tech” and the “too big to fail” financial industry.
“Google said it wants to use its platform to spread its values. With 90 percent of the world using Google search, it has the capacity to do just that,” said Schweizer.
“Not only have Google employees been caught discussing using the platform to influence policy and elections, the company has been fined for manipulating search outcomes. There are dictators throughout history who wish they had the capacity to influence people the way Google and Facebook can.”
‘Free services’ not free
A professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, Jordan Peterson discovered a day after his testimony against a controversial Canadian law suppressing free speech regarding gender that his YouTube account and Google gmail account had been blocked.
“It was a pretty clear cut case of censorship,” Schweizer said. “He also has remarkable insight into technology and the power of Google.”
Peterson comments in the film that the “free services” offered by the tech giants are not really free.
It’s a point made by Gilder in “Life After Google,” which contends that amid daily news of censorship, privacy violations and market monopolization, the age of the tech giants and their centralized, top-down hierarchical world is about to end, largely because their “neo-Marxist, deterministic” worldview is “fundamentally flawed.”
Google’s products are free because a price of zero signifies a return to the ancient barter system, and what is exchanged for the goods is a person’s attention and ultimately their time, which, Gilder points out, “is actually your life.”
The digital world after Google, says Gilder, who provided the blueprint for Reagan’s economic revolution and predicted the iPhone among other innovations, will be a new frontier of free enterprise that will look more like the original internet of limitless possibilities, but be bolstered by a new architecture rooted in security and private property.