According to Google's records, I am a woman aged over 65, who speaks English and Hebrew and is interested in technology. The last two facts may be true, but I'm actually a 34-year-old man. According to Google, the company's Ads Settings page controls the types of ads the user encounters and enables "free web services and content."
The social media websites Facebook and Twitter know me a lot better – according to their records I am married, I was born in 1979, have a Master's degree, work for Haaretz and love Game of Thrones. If you were wondering, this information, also used for audience segmented advertising, which is at the center of the Internet's most common business model, was provided by me on my own accord.
The fact that the American government receives information from Google, YouTube, Skype, Yahoo, or Apple's servers shouldn't surprise anyone. After people around the world have relinquished their Internet privacy on their own accord, all the NSA is doing is filtering the vast amount of information they create every minute. By chance or by design, this information is stored in servers belonging toAmerican companies, which constitute a global monopoly on: email services (Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, AOL), the cellular sector (iPhone and Android), VoIP (Skype), internet searches (Google), and social media (Facebook and Twitter).
U.S. President Barack Obama and other White House spokespersons have stressed that the data gathered is only used in the war on terror, and according to one report, even helped prevent a terrorist attack in the New York City Subway, but definitions like "War on Terror" and "defending the nation" can be murky. Another report said that the heads of the NSA asked the government to amend the constitution, because the they claim that the outdated Fourth Amendment that protects American citizens from illegal search and seizure doesn't allow them to carry out their work properly.
The big and troubling question that remains unanswered this weekend is how strong the symbiosis between the technology giants and the U.S. government actually is. According to Facebook, Apple, and Google, the companies have not allowed government agents to connect to their servers, but rather only provided them with specific information. Here in Israel, Internet service providers and websites too are required to provide user information upon court order, once probable cause that a crime was committed is established.
According to the New York Times, 1,856 requests of this kind were filed in the United States during 2012. But reports in the Guardian and the Washington Post indicate that the invasion of user privacy is far more extensive. According to the report, among other violations, data collected from users who searched for terms or wrote emails "that could lead to acts of terror" war recorded. Facebook even developed a mechanism for transferring information directly to authority computers. Worried that their public image be tainted and even more that users quit the service, those companies that developed successful business models based on invading their users privacy, hurried to send out rushed messages. Larry Page of Google and Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg claimed they hadn't authorized such far-reaching transfer of information to authorities and vowed to protect their hundreds of millions of users.
The exposure this program has received will likely lead to more scrutiny for PRISM. President Obama has already made it clear that the government "doesn't spy on American citizens." But the billions living outside the United States that still want to use smartphones, write emails or use Facebook, remain vulnerable. Their privacy isn't really important to Washington judges and legislators, nor to the heads of the Silicon Valley technology companies. These users already let Google scan their emails and Facebook monitor their personal statuses. Now it is revealed that
Big Brother in Washington goes over these same messages, for the war on terror, claiming that private liberties are only slightly infringed upon. From the user's point of view, it is hard to decide which is worse.
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