'Google, Facebook’s spying on users bigger intrusion than NSA’s'

'Google, Facebook’s spying on users bigger intrusion than NSA’s'
Unlike Facebook and Google who collect enormous amount of users’ data, the NSA is not actively snooping on Americans’ internet and e-mail accounts and is acting within a carefully regulated program, Fred Fleitz, former CIA analyst, told RT.

Google Chairman Eric Schmidt attacked the NSA surveillance of American citizens during a meeting of Silicon Valley executives Wednesday. He claimed that spying can break the internet. His concern, AFP reported, was echoed by Facebook, Microsoft, Dropbox and others involved in the discussion led by US Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden.

RT:Do you agree with the Google boss that the NSA really could break the internet?

Fred Fleitz: I really don’t. I find it amusing to hear Google saying things like this. When the real risk to global privacy is from companies like Google or Microsoft and Amazon that are collecting thousands of pieces of information but unlike NSA there are no regulations barring them from doing this.

RT:Why would this meeting be held? Are these internet giants really concerned about privacy or do they have their own agendas?

FF: They have their own agenda and there are two reasons they are concerned. First of all, the reports of NSA surveillance are causing many countries to demand that the servers of companies like Google be kept in that certain country. And they are saying: “This is so the NSA can’t go through this information.” The real reason is that there are a number of countries like China that want to spy on their own people. The second reason is that Google has been hurt by publicity that it shared information with the NSA in many cases inadvertently. And it is just trying to improve its image.

RT:Facebook, which has been taking part in the meeting, launched a new ad network which can target users’ offline shopping lists, and then sell that info to companies. That's not all that different from the NSA's activities, is it?

FF: There is a vast difference between the data that Google and Facebook are collecting and what the NSA is collecting. NSA is not actively spying on the internet and e-mail accounts of Americans. I know that is not what the media likes to say. But Google and Facebook are collecting enormous amounts of data, far more than the NSA is collecting in a program that is carefully regulated.

RT:Microsoft stressed NSA activity also damages the American economy as European partners fear their data will be spied on while cooperating with the US market. Do you agree?

FF:There is some truth to that. It is unfortunate because I don’t think that this is really going on. But there certainly is an effort by some countries to create new software packages that exclude American companies. That is not necessarily related to NSA activities, but it may be an effort by some particular nation to promote their own companies.

RT:Another aspect is that the meeting comes weeks before a potential vote in Congress on a bill that would stop the NSA from collecting the phone records of US citizens. What do you make of the timing and will this panel discussion lead to any real action?

FF: The vote on that bill was supposed to take place before the Congress left for its pre-election recess - that didn’t happen. Now there is going to be a new Congress, probably lamed until the new Congress in January. There are such significant differences between the Senate, and between the Senate and the House. I don’t think there is going to be action on that bill. I’m skeptical whether this panel is going to have any impact over what goes on in Congress.

Reuters/Pawel Kopczynski

American political cartoonist Ted Rall believes that for several years Google, Apple and other major tech giants in the US were cooperating voluntarily with the NSA in its broad sweeping program of domestic surveillance of the American people, and people around the world.

“Now these companies are trying to present themselves as champions of free speech, and privacy,” he said.

“It is kind of funny because now we have these two rogues [Google and NSA] that were cooperating to violate everyone’s privacy, and now they are at each other’s throat. So it is only amusing for us,” Rall added.

According to the cartoonist, “the internet is not going to physically break down, but the economics of Silicon Valley and big tech in the US absolutely will be threatened unless people, users, businesses and corporations have a reasonable expectation of privacy which in the current environment politically and legislatively have no reason to expect.”

“If you are in American or other foreign corporation or an individual, you must assume that the NSA is intercepting, storing, reading, and processing everything that you do in the digital space. It threatens their business model,” Rall told RT.

He thinks that the tone of Google representatives has changed because of all the reaction, and a blowback on companies, such as CISCO. The situation is hitting them in the pocket.

“They know [US tech giants] that the Europeans are trying to build their own version of the Cloud that would be supposedly NSA free. People want their data private. The Europeans clearly have a very different view of privacy expectations than Americans do,” he said.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.