Thursday, April 24, 2014

Outsourcing outrage

I worked as a third party consultant for nearly two decades – providing a variety of organizations support on strategic, financial and operational goals. Part of my “pitch” was that I was “your CEO/CFO/COO/CIO/C… for hire without the costs or obligations of having an in-house C level executive.” For entrepreneurial and start-up ventures, I was able to provide a range of services, earn a living at a cost that helped the organization. I, therefore, am predisposed to supporting the concept of outsourcing. The outsourcing happening in law enforcement is something that is quite worrisome.

Ordinarily, when an individual breaks a law, police investigate, district attorneys indict and the justice system goes through a long process of determining innocence or guilt and then punishment. It’s no longer ordinary times as 24 D.A.’s (nearly half the country) are trying to short-circuit this process. According to the Washington Post “State attorneys general are pressing Google to make it harder for its users to find counter­feit prescription medicine and illegal drugs online.” The D.A.’s claim that Google allows ads for products that are not legal in their states to populate in search results and in direct advertising. Forcing the company to censor the ads and results will, in theory, make the illegal activity stop, or at least slow.

Google is a huge company, and it got that way from its core business of being a search engine. Wikipedia’s definition: “A web search engine is a software system that is designed to search for information on the World Wide Web. … Search engines also mine data available in databases or open directories. Unlike web directories, which are maintained only by human editors, search engines also maintain real-time information by running an algorithm on a web crawler.” In other words – the computer is doing the analysis to find certain words that the searcher is looking for --- it’s not like a human is flipping through a bunch of yellow pages and reporting on it.

The wonder and magic of the internet is that it’s libertarian: everything’s available. There isn’t a government or an oversight organization that says what can or cannot be on the web. The fundamental principal is that information doesn’t hurt or damage. If you use that information in the real world to hurt somebody, that’s a whole different story. Want to learn how to build a bomb? Shoot a gun? Get a gun? You can learn all about that online – and there’s nothing wrong with it. Only when action is taken are laws broken or harm done.

Americans react with appropriate outrage when countries like China, Syria or Turkey censor the internet or restrict connectivity to social media. Those governments are making a decision about what the people can have access to and how they communicate thoughts and ideas. It’s no different than half of the states asking a private company to exclude data. Today the argument is about illegal drugs, what about tomorrow? Alcohol is illegal to those under a certain age – should everything about booze be prohibited? How to make a martini should not be available in search results for people under 21 in some states under this set of reasoning. What do you do in those states when the age is 18? Altar the results? Absurd? You’d think so…but the U.S. Government set the precedent for the states already.

Two years ago the Justice Department went after Google and forced them to only accept advertising from licensed pharmacists. If anybody who isn’t a licensed pharmacist has anything on their website the Google bots now exclude them from the search results in the U.S.. The company paid $500 million in fines to the Government according to the Post article. Some states require cosmetologists to be licensed – so should they be the only ones allowed to advertise or promote hair salons?

Google is a for-profit business with a fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders and the Government is actively choosing what businesses it can cannot accept advertising from. The slippery slope has begun, and the Obama administration has been leading the charge. It’s yet another small example of how this administration continues to whittle away at free speech. In this case it’s dictating what content is permissible. What’s next? Having the Government tell people what they can and can't say and who they can say it to? (Ridiculous idea? James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, has just issued a direcive dictating that to talk to certain people employees of 17 government agencies need pre-approval.) It’s outrageous…don’t you agree?

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