Google’s PRISM-Driven Doublespeak Needlessly Misleading

Some things are still scared, but your privacy on corporate-owned communications networks is not, and never has been.

PRISM slide crop

This fact of digital life has been evident for years, but the recent revelation that the National Security Agency is working closely with leading tech companies, makes it crystal clear–anything you write, say, record, transfer etc. is subject to an inspection by a federal employee tasked with keeping America secure from terror attacks.

Tech companies could stand tall and say yes, we help keep America safe from terror. But they’ve chosen to deny their involvement instead.

This is what The Google has to say for itself:

We have not joined any program that would give the U.S. government—or any other government—direct access to our servers. Indeed, the U.S. government does not have direct access or a “back door” to the information stored in our data centers. We had not heard of a program called PRISM until yesterday.

Thankfully, Foreign Policy breaks down the geek’s coded language for us.

According to Chris Soghoian, a tech expert and privacy researcher at the American Civil Liberties Union, the phrase “direct access” connotes a very specific form of access in the IT-world: unrestricted, unfettered access to information stored on Google servers. In order to run a system such as PRISM, Soghoian explains, such access would not be required, and Google’s denial that it provided “direct access” does not necessarily imply that the company is denying having participated in the program.

A similar logic applies to Google’s denial that it set up a “back door.” According to Soghoian, the phrase “back door” is a term of art that describes a way to access a system that is neither known by the system’s owner nor documented. By denying that it set up a back door, Google is not denying that it worked with the NSA to set up a system through which the agency could access the company’s data.

Yes, the company that vows to “do no evil,” not only engages in domestic spying on its users, it uses doublespeak to cloak its activities and protect its brand value.

As users or consumers of these networks, we have few places to turn. The connected networks we know as the Internet is a classic monopoly, conceived by the military and managed by their corporate contractors. Yet, we think of it as the peoples’ media. Why? Are too bedazzled by the promise of riches to pay attention to the facts? Or just lost in another cute cat video?

For me personally, I return time and again to the importance of media literacy. If we are not able or willing to turn away from the machine, we need to know how to live with it and work with it. And this means knowing what it is, how it works, who owns which piece and so on. Media literacy is also of the essence when flithy-rich corporate entities, and the government, use language to intentionally mislead people.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.