Just how corrupt is Silicon Valley?

It projects a clean and progressive image, but the reality of Silicon Valley’s power is grubbier. Just how corrupt are the “information oligarchs”?

Fifteen years ago, when I worked at Sprint in Overland Park, KS, a teammate with an intelligence community background gave me some sagely advice. To make sense of the telecoms and tech industry, he counselled, you have to take account of the unseen needs and covert interests of the spooks and spies. I’ve held that in mind over the years, as many things you see make you go “hmmm…”.

I suggest that we can generalise this colleague’s insight. To make sense of the world, we need to realise we never have a full picture. As the guru-philosopher Alan Watts said: “Human consciousness is at the same time as being a form of awareness, sensitivity and understanding, is also a form of ignorance. … Now, the question that is absolutely basic for all human beings is: what have you left out?”.

Our perception is always limited, and open to manipulation: we each can only take in a very tiny part of the unimaginably big whole of this universe. Therefore it often pays to look into the shadows behind the public relations facade, as often you find interesting and unexpected things. In particular, be aware that corruption and crime can lurk just beneath the polished PR surface. Whilst this can be in the stereotypical form you might encounter at a 3rd world bureaucracy, in advanced economies it is often more subtle and systemic.

Indeed, we Brits are world leaders in such institutionalised abuse of power. As our formal Empire has long vanished, the locus of world power has shifted to the USA. Since “information is the new oil”, a key source of “military, industrial, media, academic complex” power is Silicon Valley. This offers access to unprecedented reserves and flows of private and personal data.

As power always corrupts, there is now a troubling pattern emerging of unethical activity there. Maybe some of us are paranoid and over-sensitive, and draw lines between dots where no relationship exists. However, there are so many dark dots showing up, the lines are beginning to draw themselves.

For instance, why does Google have such strong roots in “deep state” funding? Was its extremely close involvement with the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton campaign appropriate for a company whose employees (and customers) span the political spectrum? Is its CrowdStrike unit pursuing morally upstanding activities, or is there another agenda at play? What was Eric Schmidt really doing in North Korea, which has been chamber of human rights horrors? He recently resigned as Alphabet chairman for a reason…

Twitter has been caught on camera by Project Veritas as having a cavalier disregard for its users’ privacy, manipulating feeds to suppress “wrongthink”, and terminating the accounts of dissidents who question foreign powers. I suspect worse may be to come: the Saudi funding behind Twitter was hardly part of an ethical investment portfolio. Four top executives have resigned, and @jack’s tenure as CEO looks terminal. What’s really going on here?

The close relationship of Amazon with the CIA, and its Washington Post media proxy is highly suspect to me, as the CIA has a long history of manufacturing mayhem. The working conditions in Amazon warehouses seem to be the product of calculated disregard for human wellbeing, a form of automated slavery that routinely drives workers to physical collapse. Whilst the technical and commercial achievements of Amazon are impressive, the risks to society of such concentrated power over information infrastructure should be a matter of wider public debate.

We are also seeing a stream of revelations of (child) sex abuse rings in major technology companies like Microsoft, backdoors in all Intel CPUs, and compromised devices being used in spy and blackmail rings. And has Facebook ever been fit for human consumption? The unfolding Cambridge Analytica scandal suggests the answer is negative. When Zuckerberg testifies to the House commerce committee tomorrow, remember that 85% of them will have received money from his company.

It is the responsibility of everyone to be awake and make their own judgement based on their best discernment of the full facts. So keep your eye on the shadows, and use your intuition to sense deceit or danger. If something feels wrong, it likely is.

 

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