Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Julian Assange: When Google Met WikiLeaks

Julian Assange's latest book When Google Met WikiLeaks is partially a response to Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen's The New Digital Age, published on the eve of the Snowden revelations in 2013. The disclosure that that the US government was collecting massive amounts of user data via the major US tech companies somewhat undermined the techno-utopianism of the Google sponsored manifesto. The New Digital Age featured (along with a range of various 'The Future Of ...' topics) some discussion of WikiLeaks and Assange, including some loose logic connecting hackivism with terrorism, questioning the role of WikiLeaks (and Assange in particular) in providing a leaking platform, and vague, untrue assertions about the harm caused by various leaks, and Assange now seeks to correct the record.

When Google Met WikiLeaks consists primarily of a transcript of the long discussions/ interview that took place while Assange was staying at Ellingham Hall whilst under house arrest. Schmidt and Cohen asked Assange to expound on a number of topics, noting that the views would be incorporated in their future book. The book also includes context, Assange's response to claims made in The New Digital Age, and a timeline of events.

This short book is well worth a read, as is Assange's other book Cypherpunks, if you want a chilling view of the future of the internet. Rather than couching everything in pseudo-management speak, Assange spells out the potential threats to the open internet, privacy and free speech.

As Assange notes early on, the involvement of Google in routine metadata harvesting should not come as a surprise to anyone. Google's corporate mission after all is to collect and "organise the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful" and Google obtained NSA funding to develop search tools to make sense of the data it was collecting (39).

The book is an essential read for anyone attempting to understand Assange's philosophy regarding secrecy, leaks and whistleblowing, correcting as it does some of the quotes attributed to him in The New Digital Age.

Both Cypherpunks and When Google Met WikiLeaks will remain largely unread by a public that remains far too blasé about the revelations regarding what is being done with our data. However, they provide thoughtful and knowledgable insights into the challenges of data and surveillance and should be given greater prominence in public analysis of the Big Data issue. Assange is at the forefront of the analysis of these issues and his insights should be given greater prominence given his first hand experiences with whistleblowing, surveillance and the media. Recommended reading for anyone who cares about the 'future of the internet'.

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