Tech industry aficionado and Facebook board member Peter Thiel is reportedly calling for Google to be investigated for its “work with the Chinese military.” Referring back to “treasonous” decisions by Google not to work with the U.S. military on projects related to artificial intelligence intended for use in drones, Mr. Thiel went on to imply that Google has been infiltrated by Chinese intelligence.
Specifically, Mr. Thiel posited three questions to attendees at this year’s National Conservatism Conference. First, the long-time Silicon Valley investor and influencer questioned how many “foreign intelligence agencies” have managed to infiltrate Google’s AI projects before centering on China. More directly, Mr. Thiel questioned — somewhat rhetorically — whether or not the company has been infiltrated and whether its leadership or the company itself is even aware of it.
Each of those, Mr. Thiel claims, is a question that should be aggressively pursued by agencies such as the FBI and CIA.
This is not a straightforward issue
The sentiment expressed by Peter Thiel chiefly appear to center around controversies surrounding the search giant from earlier this year and over the course of last year. It also echos calls from some individuals currently serving in an official capacity within the U.S. government itself.
Following a wave of objections from within the company itself, Google officially dropped support for a government-sponsored project last year that would have significantly improved key AI technologies and implemented those in U.S. military drones. Simultaneously, the company had another project running called Project Dragonfly that would effectively have been a Chinese version of the Google search engine.
The latter project raised a severe level of contention too after it was discovered that Google was hiding a lot of details surrounding the search engine from its own employees and actively attempting to silence dissidence against the project. The Chinese search engine would have been open to adjustments and spying via the Chinese government.
Further controversy was stirred up when reports began to leak that some employees of Google in leadership roles were actively abusing their power in apparent retaliation against workers who had led the protests against that project and against sexual misconduct in the workplace. Google has made various attempts to rectify the matter but has failed to gain traction with many of its own workers as well as with U.S. government officials — several of whom are calling for the tech giant to be broken up.
Adding fuel to that fire, the company has also taken a stand alongside Chinese tech giant Huawei, currently under investigation amid allegations of fraud, spying, and other misconduct. Google’s defense of the company’s continued operation in the U.S. and with U.S. companies stems from the fact that Huawei is a global leader in Android handsets. That means it not only helps prop up the search giant’s mobile OS but also U.S. companies that feed into Huawei’s supply chain.
…and not just complicated for Google
Complicating matters further, Google isn’t the only tech giant that’s under scrutiny. Facebook, for instance, faced down allegations that it had inadvertently enabled election tampering during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Since that investigation started, it has also been called out on numerous occasions because of concerns about leaks, breaches, and even some more nefarious acts such as fooling users into unknowingly allowing the tech giant to collect their personal data and activity. The latter of those appears to have been directed at children as much as adults.
In fact, investigations across the board led by the FTC and Justice Department have already started involving Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google. Those have mostly been focused on the level of influence exerted by the big tech companies, in addition to privacy concerns and security breaches stemming from their activity. An investigation from the FBI or CIA would add a much deeper criminal element to the inquiries and would likely be extended to include a similar grouping of tech companies.