12:46 GMT26 February 2021
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    Google, a search engine that has changed the internet, is celebrating its 20th birthday on Thursday. Sputnik has discussed the milestone with Matthew Hickey, a security researcher and co-founder of the cybersecurity firm Hacker House.

    Sputnik: In your opinion, to what extent should the public be concerned about the reports on Google employees possibly manipulating search results?

    Matthew Hickey: The report on Google employees manipulating search results is troublesome, as a widely used information sharing platform designed to search the public body of works available on the Internet — it should not be the place of such a technology company to form the political opinion on behalf of others. The internally discussed e-mail results about manipulating the public opinion on immigration and foreign policy is in direct contravention of the search engine's purpose for many people. Alternative systems such as DuckDuckGo, Baidu and Yahoo! do exist but the public overwhelmingly relies on Google as it holds a monopoly on Internet searching. Such a system should remain unbiased and completely free of political influence. When you browse the local library shelves for a book, you wouldn't expect the book shelves to contain political statements — why would the same behavior be acceptable on the Internet? Users of Google should be more aware of this, so that they can choose alternative search engines.

    READ MORE: Corruption, Manipulation, Censorship: Google's Alternative 20th Birthday

    Sputnik: What consequences could emerge from companies like Google expressing certain political views?

    Matthew Hickey: It's dangerous for companies such as Google to push users to a particular voting strategy or political viewpoint. Google is a search engine, designed for people to seek information and to access that information from a wide range of resources — mostly on the Internet. If it begins to use psychological tactics to push political opinions, then it taints its unbiased nature and causes the search engine to be distrusted as a non-reputable source of information. Information should be freely accessible to all, open and visible data on all elements of political processes is how people form opinions on how they may choose to vote. If Google takes that right from its users, it’s an attack on the fundamental principles of democracy.

    READ MORE: Google's Chrome Update Makes it Easier to Track Your Data

    Sputnik: Should certain regulatory measures be taken against Google following these revelations?

    Matthew Hickey: Google needs to be held accountable for this internal e-mail chain and clarify that it has not used similar tactics in previous elections, nor has it influenced public opinion when requesting search data. It's vital that such information-sharing platforms, when widely used by an uninformed public, are unbiased and free from political propaganda efforts.

    Sputnik: What’s your take on the users’ dependency on Google services 20 years after its creation and how dangerous could this become?

    Matthew Hickey: Google is a key Internet technology company, providing web browsers, smartphones, search engines and much more. It also acts much like a Big Brother, data harvesting information on you and your likes and dislikes for profiling. By default, it opts to capture a lot of sensitive information that many users are unaware of. An example of this is your location history; most times you use its maps and search features, a record of this information is kept online about you. Google essentially has a window into the lives of countless people — our personal habits, eating preferences and travel locations. As one of the largest technology companies today, it is important that Google does its utmost to retain the core values of a free, open and publicly available Internet. That includes not manipulating user behavior to suit its own political agendas.

    Sputnik: In your view, should tech and internet giants inform their users about their cooperation with law enforcement agencies?

    Matthew Hickey: Technology companies often work in tandem with law enforcement partners and agencies so it is not unusual for a company like Google to share information and material among its law enforcement partners.  However, such information-sharing practices should be open to scrutiny, to ensure that information on individuals is only being obtained by law enforcement when it is reasonable to do so.

    The wholesale distribution of data by Google to 3rd parties like the FBI presents a clear and present danger to everyone who uses its services. The notion that "if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear" about your data is a mantra used to deny us our individual rights to privacy and freedom online. With personal privacy at stake and information sharing seen as acceptable, how far are we willing to allow technology companies to invade our private lives? It has also been shown that the NSA simply circumvented Google's security and illegally harvested information from its internal networks. If Google is unable to protect this information, should it be storing it in the first place?

    The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect Sputnik's position.

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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