Omniveillance: Who will watch the watchers?

September 15th, 2010

As you may have read, Google fired an engineer who accessed private data to find the email accounts and phone records of several minors he had befriended. This is an obvious and inevitable consequence of Google aggregating so much private data–the risk that those who want it, and have access to the information, will use it for inappropriate ends.

As I wrote in Omniveillance:

Further, even if Google or any other company adopts a stringent privacy policy, there are substantial risks to aggregating so much personal information in a single repository—especially in light of computer hackers who might be able to expropriate this information.166 This article does not seek to impugn Google or any other company. The point that must be stressed is the risk inherent in allowing any entity the ability to collect so much information, unfettered by any concerns for privacy. If said information falls into the wrong hands, America’s conceptions of privacy can be greatly damaged, if not destroyed.

When I wrote this, I had in mind hackers stealing private data from google for nefarious ends–but this passage applies just as equally, if not stronger, to rogue agents of Google who misappropriate this data.

If Google did not make this firing public, it is likely that we would never know about this breach. Further, there are likely countless other internal breaches of data that never see the light of day. To quote omniveillance once again:

Short of Google’s self-proclaimed goal to do no evil, it has no legal incentive to protect privacy in America.

If Google is guarding our data, who will guard Google? Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?