September 18, 2017
I’ve written about the dangers of monopolies within the drug and agricultural industries on numerous occasions, but Google is perhaps one of the greatest monopolies that ever existed on the planet. The reason why I’ve decided to address Google here is because the technology giant is injecting itself ever deeper into our day-to-day lives, from childhood education to patented meat substitutes1,2 and health care, and with its internet monopoly and personal information tracking and sharing,
Google poses a very unique threat. Anyone concerned about their health and food and their ability to obtain truthful information about both needs to understand the role Google plays, and whose side Google is really on.
Starting with the issue of health care, the company recently partnered with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and is getting deeper into the drug promotion business with its launch of a depression self-assessment quiz.3,4 Just like WebMD before it, this test funnels you toward a drug solution. No matter how you answered WebMD’s questions, you were diagnosed as being at risk for major depression and urged to discuss treatment with your doctor.
That test, it turns out, was sponsored by drugmaker Eli Lilly, maker of the antidepressant Cymbalta. Now, any time you use the search term “clinical depression” in the Google mobile search engine, you will find a link to a page to “check if you’re clinically depressed.” The quiz is part of the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHG-9), “a clinically validated screening questionnaire” according to MedicalXpress.5
Beware of ‘Patient’s Rights Groups’ Working on Behalf of Drug Makers
While it may seem like an altruistic ideal to raise awareness about mental illness, the “stop the stigma” campaign is actually funded and driven by the drug industry itself, under the guise of various front groups, of which NAMI is one. As noted by PsychCentral, nearly 75 percent of the organization’s funding comes from drug companies.6 Evidence also shows that drug companies have instructed NAMI to “resist state efforts to limit access to mental health drugs” and “how to advocate forcefully for issues that affect industry profits.”
As noted by CCHR International,7 the “next time you see an ad promoting ‘stop the stigma’ see it for what it is, a pharmaceutical marketing campaign.” While CCHR was started by the Church of Scientology, which does not believe in conventional psychiatry to begin with, the group has some valid points. What they forgot or failed to include is the fact that the insurance industry has also played a significant role in creating the trend of over-prescriptions by favoring reimbursement for drug treatment over other forms of treatment.
The article goes on to discuss how the drug industry created “patient’s rights groups” for the mentally ill. In reality, these so-called advocacy groups are part of the drug industry’s marketing and lobbying machine. According to CCHR, front groups like NAMI and Children and Adults With Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) “have consistently lobbied for legislation that benefits the mental health and pharmaceutical industries which fund them, and not patients they claim to represent,” adding:
“A patients’ rights group for the mentally ill would never endorse something as absurd and obviously dangerous as giving electroshock to pregnant women, nor condone schools being able to require children to take a psychiatric drug as a condition of attending school.
Furthermore, they would never be opposed to the FDA actually doing its job and finally issuing long overdue warnings that antidepressants can cause children to commit suicide, or issue warnings that ADHD drugs have serious and even deadly side effects. Yet these are just some of the actions condoned and promoted by these so-called patients’ rights groups.
To put it simply, these groups are not what they appear to be. Yet their influence over legislation, lobbying, drug regulation (or lack thereof), and public relations campaigns is substantial and effects the entire nation,” CCHR warns. “[T]hese groups … frenetically lobby Congress and state governments to channel billions more taxpayers’ dollars into mental health programs that benefit the industry that funds them — not the patients they claim to represent.”
Tech-Driven Mental Health Diagnostics
In 2015, Google hired former National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) director8 Dr. Tom Insel as senior researcher for the Google Life Sciences (GLS) unit.9 (GLS was later rebranded as Verily, partially owned by Alphabet, the parent company that now also owns Google.) At the time, Insel told The Register his job at GLS would entail identifying technology to “help with earlier detection, better prevention and more effective management of serious health conditions.”
Insel served as director for NIMH between 2002 and 2015.10 In 2010, Insel — who led efforts to tighten ethics rules — got caught up in a conflicts of interest scandal and was accused of having a longstanding “quid pro quo” relationship with Charles B. Nemeroff, a psychiatrist and researcher at Emory University found guilty of failing to disclose pharmaceutical funds totaling $1.2 million.11 According to The Chronicle of Higher Education:12
“In 2003, the journal Nature toughened its policies for author disclosures after Dr. Nemeroff used an article in Nature Neuroscience to praise treatments for depression in which he had an unreported financial interest. In 2004, Emory issued a report citing him for multiple “serious” violations of its conflict-of-interest policies for protecting patients.
He quit as editor of the journal Neuropsychopharmacology in 2006 after he was reported to have endorsed an implantable device for treating depression without disclosing payments from its manufacturer. And he finally left Emory … after U.S. Senate investigators found he received $2.8 million from GlaxoSmithKline and other pharmaceutical companies between 2000 and 2007 and failed to disclose at least $1.2 million of it.”
Insel initially denied the charge outright,13 but weeks later expressed regret in a letter to Sen. Charles Grassley, admitting that helping Nemeroff get a job at the University of Miami was inappropriate.14 In May of this year, Insel left Verily (formerly GLS) to join another technology startup called Mindstrong. Interestingly, Mindstrong is doing more or less exactly what Verily is doing — creating smartphone and computer app technologies to diagnose and treat mental health disorders. According to Wired:15
“[A]combination of your medical records … and how you use your gadgets … could be a Big Data bonanza for predicting and treating health issues … In fact, mood is one of the things that Verily’s $100 million Baseline study will track among its 10,000 eventual participants. At Mindstrong, one of the first tests of the concept will be a study of how 600 people use their mobile phones, attempting to correlate keyboard use patterns with outcomes like depression, psychosis, or mania.”
I don’t know about you, but the idea that your electronic medical records might eventually be linked to your use of the internet and social media to assess your risk of mental health problems and/or other health issues does not make me feel warm and fuzzy inside. Google has repeatedly been caught infringing on privacy rights and misrepresenting the type and amount of data it collects on its users.
It’s now become clear that Google catches every single thing you do online if you’re using a Google-based feature. It’s also clear that capturing user data is Google’s primary business.16 The fact that it provides services while doing so is really beside the point and serves as a convenient distraction from the fact that obnoxious privacy violations are taking place. As reported by Gawker:17
“Every word of every email sent through Gmail and every click made on a Chrome browser is watched by the company. ‘We don’t need you to type at all,’ [Google co-founder Eric] Schmidt once said. ‘We know where you are. We know where you’ve been. We can more or less know what you’re thinking about.’”
Today’s youth, and their parents, need to be particularly vigilant and aware of what Google is doing. Over the past five years, Google has taken over classrooms across the U.S. As noted by The New York Times,18 more than 30 million American children now use Google-based education apps such as Gmail, Google docs, Google classroom apps and Google-powered Chromebooks.
Once out of school, these youngsters are encouraged to convert their school accounts into personal accounts, allowing Google to build exceptionally powerful personality profiles of them as they grow into young adults. If these profiles are used for marketing purposes only, that would be bad enough. But what if they’re used for other types of profiling? Google’s data harvesting is particularly concerning in light of its military connections.19
A recent Activist Post article reveals how YouTube is censoring Ron Paul, former congressman and 2011 Republican GOP presidential candidate, for promoting peace.20 Paul has also been a tireless defender of health freedom throughout his long career. In other words, Google is now actively controlling the public narrative — also known as social engineering — and, as noted in the article:
“When standing up against an illegal war with a message of peace and liberty becomes a censorable ‘offense’ it’s time to start paying attention … Make no mistake, what we are witnessing on YouTube and Facebook right now is a move to silence the peaceful opposition …
[T]his crackdown is also coinciding with a massive push by the mainstream media to stoke divide among the people … [D]ivisive identity politics are shoved down the collective throats of the masses in order to create an atmosphere so divided that people never look up at who’s controlling them. Disagreeing with the status quo is the new hate speech — speak out and you will be mowed down.”
Google’s catchphrase used to be “Don’t be evil,” but that’s exactly what it is. When Google became Alphabet, it dropped the “don’t be evil” slogan for a more comprehensive motto, which begins with doing “the right thing — follow the law, act honorably, and treat each other with respect.”21 Yet the company continues to act as if it’s above the law and really struggles when it comes to doing what’s right. In fact, Google seems to think its actions are righteous and justifiable simply by the fact that they’re doing them.
Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely
All of this brings us to the issue of monopolization and the corruption that inevitably follows. At this point, I cannot think of any company operating in breach of antitrust rules as blatantly as Google. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, and this adage certainly fits when describing Google. As reported by The Washington Post:22
“Google has established a pattern of lobbying and threatening to acquire power. It has reached a dangerous point … The moment where it no longer wants to allow dissent … Once you reach a pinnacle of power, you start to believe that any threats to your authority are themselves villainous and that you are entitled to shut down dissent. As Lord Acton famously said, ‘Despotic power is always accompanied by corruption of morality.’ Those with too much power cannot help but be evil.
Google, the company dedicated to free expression, has chosen to silence opposition, apparently without any sense of irony… [I]n recent years, Google has become greedy about owning not just search capacities, video and maps, but also the shape of public discourse. As the Wall Street Journal recently reported, Google has recruited and cultivated law professors who support its views.”
This includes funding research papers “that appear to support the technology company’s business interests and defend against regulatory challenges such as antitrust and anti-piracy.” Some of these academics have not declared the source of their funding, even though payments have reached as high as $400,000. As noted by The Times:26
“On one occasion Eric Schmidt, Google’s former chief executive, cited a Google-funded author in written answers to Congress to back his claim that his company was not a monopoly — without mentioning that it had paid for the paper …”
Europe Fines Google Nearly $3 Billion for Antitrust Violations
Power can be assessed by looking at lobbying expenditures and, so far this year, Google is leading the pack when it comes to corporate spending on lobbying — efforts primarily aimed at eliminating competitors and gaining power over others. Google also appears to take full advantage of its power over organizations that it helps fund.
A recent example of this was when the Open Markets team at the New America think tank published a statement praising the EU’s decision to levy a $2.7 billion fine against Google for antitrust violations. In summary, Google gave preference to its own shopping subsidiaries over competitors in its search results, which the EU deemed to be a violation of antitrust rules (see the featured video above).
The Open Markets team also called on the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, Department of Justice (DOJ) and state attorneys general to apply American monopoly law to Google’s business in the U.S. Google’s response to the Open Markets statement was swift, and within three days, the New America think tank — which has received more than $21 million from Google over the years — ousted the entire Open Markets team.27
Zephyr Teachout, associate professor of law at Fordham University, writes in her Washington Post article, “Google Is Coming After Critics in Academia and Journalism. It’s Time to Stop Them:”‘ 28
“The imperial overreach of Google in trying to shut down a group of five researchers proves the point that the initial release from Open Markets was trying to make: When companies get too much power, they become a threat to democratic free speech and to the liberty of citizens at large …
Google is forming into a government of itself, and it seems incapable of even seeing its own overreach. We, as citizens, must respond in two ways. First, support the brave researchers and journalists who stand up to overreaching power; and second, support traditional antimonopoly laws that will allow us to have great, innovative companies — but not allow them to govern us.
Google’s actions forced the Open Markets team to leave New America. But, thankfully, it did not succeed in silencing them entirely. Open Markets will continue on as a separate organization, which I will chair. Their work exposing corporate monopolies and advocating for regulation is more important than ever. Google shows us why.”
New America Faces Backlash
The fact that New America was coddling Google and doing the company’s bidding did not go unnoticed, however, and Anne-Marie Slaughter, president of the Google-funded think tank is now accused of jeopardizing New America’s reputation with her decision to kick Open Markets out.
Scholars affiliated with New America have also been “quietly comparing notes on past instances in which they contend she placed donors’ interests over ideology.” According to The New York Times,29 Slaughter has “pledged to re-examine her group’s policies for dealing with donors while defending the organization’s intellectual integrity.” Whatever might come of that “re-examination” remains to be seen.
Former business journalist Barry Lynn, director of Open Markets, who spent over a decade with the New America Foundation before being ousted by Slaughter, has been a longtime advocate against monopolies such as Google, and his work is now gaining traction in what some have called an “antitrust revival.”30 As noted by The Daily Beast:31
“For years, Lynn has been warning about the pernicious effect monopolies have on all facets of American life: from the food one eats, to the financial system one uses, to the forms of communications on which one depends. And for years, his work has been restricted to the usual confines of advocacy and academia …
On [July 24, 2017], that changed. [Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)] … outlined an agenda that put heavy emphasis on cracking down on corporate monopolies.
The topic occupies the first four pages of a 10-page document and includes placing new standards on the consolidation of corporate power, giving new tools to regulators to confirm and review mergers, and creating a new consumer competition advocate to tackle ‘anti-competitive behavior.’ Lynn, who estimates that he has been working on this stuff for 15 years, called the new agenda ‘fantastic.’”
Monopolies Threaten Public Liberties and Democracy
In a recent interview by The Verge,32 Lynn discusses his plans to continue fighting monopolies in America. Open Markets still has most of its funders and the organization is “already up and running” as an independent institution. They also have new funding sources lined up. When asked why it’s so important to dialogue about monopoly power, Lynn replies:
“[M]onopolies are a threat to our democracy and to our basic liberties and to our communities. Monopolization, this concentration of wealth and power, is a threat to everything that is America … So, Open Markets is built to fight the environment of law and regulation that currently promotes unrestrained monopoly. America today has a monopoly problem.
We’re seeing basically a second wave of consolidation and monopolization because of the digital revolution. These companies are just as bad as Newscorp or Walmart or Citibank was in 2005. Google, Facebook, and Amazon: the danger they pose is on a vastly different level.The first issue is consumer protection and potential consumer harm. We created antitrust laws originally to protect our liberties, often as producers of stuff …
My liberty to bring my wheat, my ideas, the product of my labor to market. That’s liberty. The second purpose was to protect our democracy against huge concentrations of wealth and power. To protect our democratic institutions. And the third purpose [was] to protect your community.
If I’m living out in Peoria, do I want the city of Peoria to be run by a couple corporations based on Wall Street, or do I want it to be run by the citizens of Peoria? So you use anti-monopoly law to ensure that.”
Tech Monopolies Merge to Create Ultimate AI World
Last year, The Register33 published an article pointing out the revolving door between Google and EU policy advisers; 16 Google employees have joined the government ranks in the EU while 64 policy advisers left to join Google. We see this revolving door phenomenon so often these days, it’s become quite cliché. Unfortunately, it is highly effective, which is why industry abuses it. Google is running such a clear monopoly, it’s quite astounding the U.S. has not nailed it on antitrust charges similar to those raised in the EU.
Then again, Music Technology Policy published a long article34 last year describing how Google managed to install one of its own lawyers in the DOJ antitrust division, thereby protecting its own interests. These revolving doors between government and corporations exist for a reason, and it is not to benefit the public in any way.
As we look to the future, we also have Google’s sights on artificial intelligence (AI) to contend with. Already, two large monopolies have joined forces to bring about the ultimate AI world. As reported by The New York Times,35 Amazon and Microsoft are now working together, merging their voice-controlled digital assistants — Alexa and Cortana — in order to enlarge the capabilities of both by building on each other’s strengths and abilities.
“In an interview … [Amazon CEO Jeff] Bezos predicted that over time people would turn to different digital assistants … the same way they turn to one friend for advice about hiking and another for restaurant recommendations. ‘I want them to have access to as many of those A.I.s as possible.’ Mr. Bezos said.”36
Ultimately, the goal is to create self-learning AIs capable of imitating human thought processes. Meanwhile, Vanity Fair reports that Elon Musk is raising a “billion-dollar crusade” to prevent the AI apocalypse, calling for regulations on the technology “before it’s too late.” According to Musk, AIs are improving at a far greater pace than most people realize, and there’s no telling what they might ultimately be used for. Vanity Fair writes:37
“In a startling public reproach to his friends and fellow techies, Musk warned that they could be creating the means of their own destruction. He told Bloomberg’s Ashlee Vance … that he was afraid that his friend Larry Page, a co-founder of Google and now the C.E.O. of its parent company, Alphabet, could have perfectly good intentions but still ‘produce something evil by accident’ — including, possibly, ‘a fleet of artificial intelligence-enhanced robots capable of destroying mankind.’
It’s in Larry Page’s blood and Google’s DNA to believe that A.I. is the company’s inevitable destiny — think of that destiny as you will. (‘If evil A.I. lights up,’ Ashlee Vance told me, ‘it will light up first at Google.’)”
Take Action — Here’s What You Can Do
As you can see, Google (or more accurately, Alphabet, the rebranded parent company that houses all of the various divisions) is turning into a gigantic octopus-like super entity, the tentacles of which reach into government, food production, health care, education, military applications and the creation of AIs that may run more or less independently.
A key component of many of these enterprises is data — your personal usage data; the tracking of every webpage you’ve ever visited and every single thought you’ve ever written on a Google-enabled device, along with geo tracking tracing your every move.
Ultimately, what can be done with that kind of information, besides personalized advertising? How might it be used in combination with military AI-equipped robots? How might it be used to influence your health care decisions? How might it be used to influence your lifestyle decisions? How might (or is) it used to shape politics and society at large?
Today, being a conscious consumer includes making wise, informed decisions about technology. Anyone who has spent even a small amount of time pondering the ramifications of Google’s ever-growing monopoly over our day-to-day lives is likely to shudder at the possibilities and agree that we cannot allow this to continue. To be part of the solution, I encourage you to take the following actions:
- Sign the “Don’t be evil” petition created by Citizens Against Monopoly
- Avoid any and all Google products. If you have a Gmail account, close it and open an account with a non-Google affiliated email service. Stop using Google docs. Digital Trends recently published an article suggesting a number of alternatives.38 If you’re a high school student, do not convert the Google accounts you created as a student into personal accounts
- Don’t use Google search engine. So far, one of the best alternatives I’ve found is DuckDuckGo.39 It is now my primary search engine and I avoid Gmail and all of Google products whenever possible.
Sources and References
- 1 Jon Rappaport August 25, 2017
- 2 BBC News August 5, 2013
- 3 Buzzfeed August 25, 2017
- 4 Daily Mail August 24, 2017
- 5 MedicalXpress August 24, 2017
- 6 Psych Central, October 22, 2009
- 7 CCHR International, The Mental Health Watchdog, Psycho-Pharma Front Groups
- 8 NAMI, September 11, 2002
- 9 The Register September 16, 2015
- 10 NIMH.gov, Dr. Tom Insel to Step Down as NIMH Director
- 11 Washington Post June 9, 2010
- 12 Chronicle of Higher Education June 6, 2010
- 13 Science June 16, 2010
- 14 Nature News Blog July 8, 2010
- 15 Wired May 11, 2017
- 16 Fast Company January 13, 2014
- 17 Gawker October 6, 2015
- 18 New York Times May 13, 2017
- 19 Boston Dynamics
- 20 Activist Post August 28, 2017
- 21 Geek.com October 5, 2015
- 22, 28 Washington Post August 30, 2017
- 23 Campaign for Accountability July 11, 2017
- 24 The Guardian July 12, 2017
- 25 Digit, Don’t Be Evil
- 26 the Times July 13, 2017
- 27, 35, 36 New York Times August 30, 2017
- 29 New York Times September 1, 2017
- 30 ZeroHedge August 31, 2017
- 31 Daily Beast July 25, 2017
- 32 The Verge September 5, 2017
- 33 The Register June 6, 2016
- 34 Music Technology Policy August 9, 2016
- 35 New York Times August 30, 2017
- 37 Vanity Fair March 26, 2017
- 38 Digital Trends April 28, 2017
- 39 Fast Company, Inside DuckDuckGo