Why You Might As Well Use Google: The Grim Reality of "Ethical Tech"

Popzazzle | Monday, 5 April 2021 |

"That puts DuckDuckGo in the company of Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, Cloudflare, Megaupload, and wait for it... Pornhub. That is the general ethical standard we are talking about."


Bingle search

In the digital backwater that is alternative social media, we've come to expect a timeline punctuated with animated cries of “ditch Google!”. But ask for a rationale, and the orator will routinely point a nifty hyperlink at a piece of content marketing. A comprehensive damnation of Big Tech, fused with an all-important alternative recommendation. A slick word-parcel that either emerged directly from the lips of Eth Tech, or looks like it was financed with an Eth Tech backhander. So, what the heck is Eth Tech? You ask.

Eth Tech - an abbreviation of Ethical Technology - is like Big Tech, but smaller. It's a glob of technology corps marketing themselves with a claim that they're especially ethical. Eth Tech trades heavily on a privacy ticket, and relentlessly contrasts its self-exhorted “ethical” methods with an exhaustively vilified Big Tech stalkathon. The arena of Eth Tech harbours names like Brave, DuckDuckGo (DDG), MeWe, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), and a raft of others who profile Google, Facebook and/or Microsoft as the wicked witch, while citing themselves as the eternal good fairy.

But despite claiming to oppose the idea of data-mining, all of these brands collect data. Despite claiming to oppose the bullish grab-all mentality of the Web superpowers, all of them support copyright abuse.

That's right. I can download your photos directly from DuckDuckGo, and I'll bet you didn't didn't give DDG permission to redistribute them. I can catch Brave serving its own ads against your content, and pocketing a fee, whether or not you said that was okay. I can confirm that the EFF used its brimful donations bucket to lobby against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). In other words, to lobby in favour of online piracy. And MeWe? How many seconds do you think you can spend on there without seeing a photo they don't have permission to host?

This is not a new dawn. This is the same type of people, with the same mentality, wanting to play exactly the same game. Most of the Eth Tech brands even have deals with Big Tech. They wanna look like Shoshana Zuboff, while behaving like Gordon Gecko.

TWIST AND SHOUT


Twist and shout is the Eth Tech strategy. Twist everything to fit the narrative of the week (which may well be different from last week's narrative), and shout it as far as it will travel. Let's see an example...

The EFF is marginally distinct from brands like Brave and DDG, in that it's technically a nonprofit. But its history has Big Tech funding running through it like 'Blackpool' through a stick of rock, and it still takes money from Google.

As well as hosting the Tor download, and offering a website encryption manager called Certbot, the EFF strenuously plugs a rather listless piece of “anti-tracking” technology called Privacy Badger, which ironically, collects data. According to the relevant Privacy Policy...

"We may share datasets derived from our technology projects with research partners."

So not just an ethical body then. Oh no. Also a “research provider”, which really doesn't sound like a very private concept, does it? Not when the lab rat on the research table is you, and I, and whoever else they can persuade to use Privacy Badger. Anyway, the EFF really wants people to use this crappy tool, and it recently chose to content-market it inside a fanfare of fake outrage about Google forcing Chrome users to endure FLoC - the replacement for third-party cookies...

Google Is Testing Its Controversial New Ad Targeting Tech in Millions of Browsers. Here’s What We Know.

Except Google isn't actually forcing Chrome users to endure FLoC.

The EFF headlines in its article that Google's in-progress FLoC trial has no dedicated opt-out. SHOCK, HORROR!...

Users have been enrolled in the trial automatically. There is no dedicated opt-out (yet).

But then goes on in the smaller print to admit...

“users can only opt out of the trial by turning off all third-party cookies.”

So... there IS a dedicated opt-out then, isn't there.

Bah, pesky Google, not living up to its evil rep. What can the EFF do? Other than try to invalidate the opt-out it's now begrudgingly admitted exists...

“Turning [third party cookies] off altogether is a crude countermeasure, and it breaks many conveniences (like single sign-on) that web users rely on.”

This is utter, utter, illogical flappery. Third-party cookies serve the same purpose as FLoC. Why would anyone who wants to switch off FLoC NOT already be blocking third-party cookies? Single sign-on is not “many conveniences”. It's one icon of surveillance capitalism that no one with privacy concerns would ever use. It's hyper-tracking. It's allocating someone an ID so they can be recognised wherever they go. It's THE EXACT THING THE ARTICLE IS TRYING TO COMPLAIN ABOUT!

Yes, this really is an article that says “Opting out of tracking is not really viable because you'll sacrifice the opportunity to be tracked.

A perfect illustration of the way Eth Tech twists anything it can get its hands on to serve its own agenda. But what actually is the agenda here?

Well, there's the shameless plug for Privacy Badger I mentioned, but I doubt that was the main motivation behind the EFF's second anti-FLoC article in quick succession. The real motivation, I suspect, is that Eth Tech relies on Google's use of third-party cookies to portray the company as evil. If Google scraps third-party cookies, then what is the difference between Google and Eth Tech?

Think about it.

Eth Tech has itself duped the public into believing that just because it's not using third-party cookies, it's not mining data. And it is mining data. Eth Tech companies have, for example, used a browser ID-based system to monitor usage. Now Google is trying to do the same, Eth Tech is crying foul. The problem for Eth Tech is that if Google dumps third-party cookies, there's really nothing to set Eth Tech apart. What do these companies, whose core selling point is the fact that Google and its partners follow everyone around the Web, do if Google is suddenly able to say...

“Actually, we're not stalking anyone round the Web anymore. And in fact, we're not doing anything significantly different from the likes of Brave, Vivaldi or DuckDuckGo.”?

Seriously. Where do they all go from there? It's a gigantic problem for them. They do not want Google to dump third-party cookies, because that online stalking is the only basic difference between Google and them. Is the EFF desperately lobbying for the Eth Tech collective to whip up public opposition to FLoC, so that Google will retain third-party cookies, and its Achilles heel?

TWIST AND CRAWL


Other twists in the Eth Tech arsenal include “private search engines” painting themselves as self-sufficient products, when they're really just a veneer on top of “Bingle”. There are currently in fact just two publicly available independent search engines that produce their own search results, and don't simply get Big Tech to deliver the results for them. Most people haven't heard of either.

Have you heard of Mojeek? Have you heard of Gigablast? Those are your only two truly independent search options as of April 2021. And Matt Wells - proprietor of Gigablast - constantly bemoans the anti-competitive practices he alleges Big Tech is using to prevent his crawler from accessing important content.

For example, on his blog, Wells cites that Big Search greases the palm of Cloudflare - a “DDoS-prevention solution” - to restrict rival search engines' access to a growing number of Web pages. He cites that Google and Microsoft are gatekeeping an increasing volume of content and then blocking independent search crawlers from that content, whilst allowing through their own crawlers.

It's pretty dystopian stuff. But the question is, if we're now in a world where you need Google and/or Microsoft's blessing to provide a search engine, how can we consider DuckDuckGo, Startpage or Qwant to be anything other than Microsoft or Google partners? Indeed, DuckDuckGo is itself directly involved with Cloudflare.

How can we consider Eth Tech to be separate from Big Tech?

When you look at the evidence, they're all just one big bunch of squabbling relations. Falling out with each other. Paying each other. Falling out with each other. Paying each other. At root, Eth Tech is the bastard child of the Big Tech family, and it's done vastly more to assist its wealthy but tight-fisted parents than it's ever done to help dumbass, spindoctrinated pawns like us.

ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME!!!


So how do we tell the difference between Eth Tech and real privacy advocates? I'm glad you asked. The difference is a massive sense of entitlement. Eth Tech CEOs display exactly the same traits as Big Tech CEOs, and they're just as incompetent at hiding their self-interest.

Here's a classic example from Jon von Tetzchner - CEO of Eth Tech brand Vivaldi...

My friends at Google: it is time to return to not being evil

You see the title of that blog post and think: “Yes! So this is the definitive collation of Google's transgressions, from industrial scale copyright-bulldozing, through tax avoidance, to the intrusion of filming everyone's home and putting the footage on the Internet, right?” To save you the bother of checking, no it's not, is the answer. It's basically a page of von Tetzchner crying about his OWN Google account getting suspended.

This is how Eth Tech CEOs see the world. They're that guy on Twitter who hijacks every issue and tries to make it about himself. Except they have enough status to be taken seriously, and they have the publicity nouse to use high-reach, high-permanence outlets for their self-serving blab, rather than the transient base end of social media threads. They have the same privileged background as people like Page, Brin, Gates and Zuckerberg. They come through the same system of expectation, and they have the same sense of entitlement.

They're not building protocols in open source. They're building proprietary, centralised, closed-source, non-transparent, profit-making brands. We technically have to exclude the EFF from that, because it's officially a nonprofit. But it still spends £millions on behalf of both Eth Tech and Big Tech, and strategically it's the detached mouthpiece they can all use to do their dirty work without tarnishing their brand image.

CONTENT IS DATA


But what if this whole privacy thing is for real? What if, even despite the fact that DuckDuckGo's Gabriel Weinberg didn't give a fig about privacy until someone on Reddit told him it could pump up his market share, he actually does care about it now? What if he and the rest of Eth Tech really are into moral integrity?

They're not. How do we know that? Because if this were about moral integrity, or ever had been, these Eth Tech brands would be fiercely pro-copyright. They would want to protect the people who literally built the Web. The content providers. The creative working class, as Yasha Levine put it in this spectacularly good dig into the EFF's dodgy dealings.

But they don't want to protect the people who built the Web. They want to do exactly what Big Tech wants to do. They want to parasite off the back of that working class, for free. Because that's what privileged, entitled CEOs are brought up to do. And the only way they're able to do that is by helping to block anti-piracy laws. Helping to block laws that would award the same value to content on the open Web that content has on the closed Web. Laws that would essentially force both Big Tech and Eth Tech to pay for the work it currently appropriates without permission, and uses to drive its business.

DuckDuckGo officially opposed the SOPA anti-piracy bill. That puts it in the company of Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, Cloudflare, Megaupload, and wait for it... Pornhub. That is the general ethical standard we are talking about.

We have to make the connection between privacy and property. The content that Eth Tech entitles itself to exploit for profit is people's property, and people's property is as private as they wish it to be. Taking people's property, is taking people's rights. And it's all dissemination, whether you're taking and redistributing data, or content. Content IS data. Wake up! No company that believes content should be republished without express consent is genuinely opposed to data-mining, because your content IS your data.

SHOULD WE BE USING ETH TECH?


There's no universal reason why we shouldn't use Eth Tech as an alternative to Big Tech, because the truth is that none of them are really ethical. But the idea that Eth Tech somehow allows us to get free services without being the product is a fallacy, and we should understand that.

If you go to the site ToS; Didn't Read, you'll see that the search engine Startpage gets a Grade A. And yet its results contain adverts that look almost identical to the organic results, and when you inadvertently click a result that's an ad, you're literally transferred through a Google tracking domain. In my book, that's not even Grade C privacy, but these Eth Tech firms focus so hard on their separation from Big Tech, that everyone gets blinded to their attachment.

And if you peer behind the facade into that very world of online advertising, you'll see what this eth bandwagon is really all about. It's not an attack of conscience on the part of tech providers. It's merely a recognition of a comprehensively researched fact. Namely, the fact that ethics are over three times as important as competence in establishing consumer trust. There you have it. It's a marketing tactic - spoken directly from a very large horse's mouth.

So my recommendation is not to get caught up in ethical bullshit, and just to use the thing that best achieves what you need. If Google does the job best for you, use Google. If DuckDuckGo does it best for you, use DuckDuckGo. But don't waste your life scratting around the dark depths of cyberspace finding bits of crap that barely do anything, just because someone said you shouldn't use Google. The chances are, the person who started that anti-Google meme was an Eth Tech CEO who wants to be Google. It's you life, not his.