The Feds can’t legally spy on you. But Google can.

The deeper I dive into trust analysis, the more I realize it involves seeing the world through different lenses. I have to accept that some things I learn about trust aren’t gratifying to know, but they are indeed true. And I have to analyze trust relationships not just at the surface, but layers and layers deep.

Let me use Google as an example (again). Trust research confirms that one of the parameters on which we base trust is renumeration: what am I getting in return for giving you my trust? It is absolutely valid to say that renumeration is an invalid basis for trust, because if you’re paying me to trust you, that is an unhealthy relationship from the very start. Unfortunately, I could see the value of the many things Google that I use as quite high. I like Google Maps. Gmail seems like a nice free service. Google Documents are a fine way to share documents with clients and customers. Google+ is, well, a community, I guess.

Compared to what Google gives us, we give Google fabulous treasure. Treasure that a health insurance company can use, perfectly legally, to deny you coverage for an illness simply because you searched for information online. Using Google. Treasure that advertisers and hawkers of every description, ethical and otherwise, can use to sell us stuff. Treasure about our personal lives that the U.S. Government can’t legally collect – but Google can.

We can trust Google, though, right? Well, on the trust metric of consistency, not so much. Google has frequently and repeatedly turned over information on citizens not just of the United States, but of China and other countries, to their governments.

Let me refer you back to a 2009 article, “Cyberwarfare’s First Casualty: Your Privacy” at

Those who fight cyberwars will mine vast amounts of data in an attempt to find nuggets of information. They’ll look for patterns of use and relationships that otherwise would escape notice.

To find those patterns and information requires massive and constant data gathering, on a scale likely not being done by the government. Constantly gathering that kind of information would probably be illegal.

That’s why you’ll see government outsourcing its intelligence gathering to companies that already do the work legally — and primarily that means Google.

I’m not saying that Google will purposefully gather information for the federal government. Instead, the government will legally tap into Google’s already in-place information gathering, by issuing subpoenas on a regular basis.

Does this put any trust in Google in a different light?

It does for me. I’m forced to wonder if the only defensive move Internet users can make is to spread a gray cloud of disinformation about themselves. Or perhaps develop utterly segregated multiple personae on the Internet. Or simply hide, as one analyst acquaintance suggests, like a roach.