In December 2022, Google initiated “code red.”
Fucking finally! This meant that Google was mobilizing its hordes to protect user privacy, restore compliance with antitrust laws, and disentangle its ad revenue machine from profiting from massive criminal enterprises. Right?
Wrong. Google invoked “code red” to announce a completely different priority. “Code red” for Google meant defending the tech giant against rival AIs.
You see, the emergence of ChatGPT foretold a future in which Google might no longer dominate search by interspersing lists of linked search results with highly profitable ads, and might actually lose its monopoly over the digital economy. In short, Google thought that AI could spell the end of the tech company’s stranglehold on our lives.
Of course, while it declared war on AI, Google announced that it would provide less help and fewer resources for the fight. Google laid off 12,000 people in January and decommissioned over 100 robot janitors in February. Then, it restricted supplies of laptops, computer accessories, staplers, tape, personal desks, and muffins.
While Google employees worked frantically – and, apparently, hungrily – to fulfill the new directive, Google continued its old ways: invading user privacy, violating antitrust laws, and profiting indirectly from criminal activities. No “code red” on that stuff – just business as usual.
And to show you that Google has not changed one bit, we present the latest update of The Google Timeline of Scandal and Strife. Astonishingly, we don’t have any new legal settlements or regulatory decisions to report this time, so we’ll put the CreativeFuture Big Tech Fine Tracker on pause for now. But have no fear – there are plenty of pending lawsuits and investigations out there, and as they are completed, the Fine Tracker will reappear!
January 11, 2023
German regulators say Google may have broken a 2021 antitrust law that requires Big Tech to obtain permission when aggregating personal data across separate products. Without users’ informed consent, Google pooled information from Google Search, Maps, Chrome, YouTube, or other proprietary apps. Through this practice, Germany’s Federal Cartel Office believes that Google made extremely vast, detailed consumer profiles – and gained an unfair advantage in the market for digital ads. Google will now have an opportunity to respond. We expect it to say, in a robotic voice, “All your data belong to us.” Perhaps we can look forward to more fines in Google’s future. 🎉
February 27, 2023
According to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), Google willfully destroyed records that it was obligated to retain as the defendant in an antitrust lawsuit. Google should have begun archiving employee communications in 2019, when it learned it was likely to face prosecution. Instead, Google deleted chat messages at intervals as frequent as every 24 hours, advised employees to communicate via chat messages instead of e-mails, and falsely reassured the government that records were being preserved. Google persisted in the ruse even after Epic Games complained, in a separate suit, that Google was destroying evidence. The federal court may now fine Google for, in effect, shredding four years’ worth of files. That’s a lot of potentially damning information that was made to disappear.
March 27, 2023
Officially, Google prohibits sexual harassment, but its search results steer users to websites providing vast quantities of nonconsensual, artificially generated pornography. Pornographic “deepfakes” have long targeted celebrities, but since the advent of generative AI, they have increasingly exploited likenesses of social media influencers and even women who aren’t public figures. The top Google search result for “deepfake porn” is MrDeepFakes, an ad-supported site trawled by 17 million users and that grows by over 1,000 exploitative videos every month. Asked about directing traffic to sites like MrDeepFakes, Google said that, while it would always pride itself on providing “relevant results,” any victim is free to submit a removal request. Hey, ask copyright owners how that “removal request” stuff works! (Answer: not very well.)
April 18, 2023
Google’s Evil Empire met increased opposition today as the total number of U.S. states supporting a federal antitrust lawsuit rose from eight to 17. Filed in January 2023, the lawsuit takes aim at Google’s monopoly over digital ads, demanding that Google divest itself of Ad Manager. A separate lawsuit, filed in 2020, seeks to pry online search from Google’s robot claw arms. Meanwhile, the Department of Justice is scrutinizing Google’s control over maps.
May 2, 2023
In October 2021, YouTube promised to stop serving ads on climate misinformation videos. Looking to keep them honest, researchers searched YouTube in April of this year and found 100 videos that violated YouTube’s policy. Researchers didn’t have to dredge YouTube’s darkest backwaters to find these; they simply searched for climate with hoax or scam. Besides the clearly violative content, researchers found 100 more videos that perpetuated harmful climate myths [
WHAT KIND OF MYTHS?]. Google monetized them with ads for major brands: Costco, Nike, Hyundai, Tommy Hilfiger … As one of the study’s contributors remarked, the findings cast doubt on “Google’s current level of enforcement.” “Doubts?” That’s a nice way of saying “abysmal performance,” which we’ve come to expect from Google when instead it should be taking responsibility.
June 1, 2023
Alphabet shareholders (Google’s parent) voted NOT to approve an independent review of YouTube after they heard from a bereaved mother, whose 13-year-old son, Griffin, had died while reenacting a “blackout challenge” video. She was invited to speak at an annual shareholder meeting by a small group of concerned investors. Sadly, Griffin’s tragedy was not unique: the estimated death toll from “blackout challenges” is 1,385 people, according to the nonprofit Erik’s Cause, but the actual total is probably higher. Unfortunately, Alphabet persuaded shareholders that an external safety audit “would not be an effective use of company resources.” Although YouTube has a policy (yep, another “policy”) to prohibit videos that encourage dangerous stunts, it has repeatedly failed to enforce the policy.
June 15, 2023
According to a study by the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), Google made $10 million over two years by selling ads for 188 “crisis pregnancy centers.” This was a euphemism for anti-abortion groups posing as healthcare providers. These groups give unscientific advice and push dangerous, unproven treatments, such as using progesterone to counteract abortion pills. Worse, Google had extended ad subsidies worth up to $10,000/month to many of these groups through its nonprofit grants program. Google was helping these unqualified centers target desperate women, as well as profiting from their dubious activities. The CEO of CCDH said, “It’s one of the most morally offensive things I’ve seen among these companies.”
June 20, 2023
Gannett has sued Google for monopolizing the market for digital ads, which has all but destroyed local newsrooms. Gannett is the publisher of USA Today, as well as Detroit Free Press, El Paso Times, and other dailies in cities across the U.S. In Google’s defense, the vice-president of its ads division said, “These claims are simply wrong.” Well, that’s unlikely, since the DOJ has also sued Google over its alleged ad monopoly, and there is wide consensus that Big Tech’s dominance over digital ads has decimated journalism. Outrageously, Google continues to starve legitimate news sources while it profits from misinformation.
June 27, 2023
In yet another case of broken promises – or maybe fraud? – Google failed to honor agreements governing ad placements on third-party sites 80% of the time. The scandal was uncovered by ad-tracking firm Adalytics, which examined ad impressions from over 1100 brands from 2020-2023. Advertisers paid premium rates, typically higher by a factor of 20, to ensure their video ads would appear prominently on reputable sites. However, Google actually gave the ads substandard placements on numerous misinformation and piracy sites. Advertisers affected include not only companies like American Express and Macy’s but also government entities like Medicare, the Social Security Administration, and the U.S. Army. Now, advertisers are knocking on Google’s door demanding refunds – and Google is pretending not to hear them.
That’s a lot of new, fresh, scandal and strife going on at Google. But in Mountain View, it doesn’t rise to “code red” levels.
It doesn’t sound the alarm if personal data is collected without consent. It doesn’t panic if researchers find breaches in its terms of service or deals with advertisers. It doesn’t slam on the brakes if its ad monopoly bowls over publishers of high-quality news.
It doesn’t jump into action if its platforms are used to spread misinformation about climate change or women’s reproductive health. It doesn’t call for help if children’s lives are repeatedly jeopardized by risky challenge videos.
All those things are just business as usual.
There’s only one thing that makes Google’s circuits smoke.
It’s the prospect of reduced revenue.
Unfortunately, so long as Google profits at others’ expense, countless citizens and businesses will find themselves living in a true state of emergency.