Is Google the Next Halliburton?


by Tony Kontzer

In the latest issue of Funny Times (a collection of left-leaning cartoons and columns), there's a drawing of a man with his finger lodged up his nose, and the caption reads, "Oops! Is big brother watching?" Only "big brother" is crossed out and replaced by "Google."

The image is humorous and slightly disturbing, raising thoughts of our every move being documented, photographed and videoed, eventually to be posted on Google, Facebook or YouTube, causing us no end of embarrassment. It's a very real issue, this idea that the Internet is gradually stripping away any sense of privacy we once enjoyed. You really can't walk the streets any longer safe in the knowledge that you're an anonymous ant unnoticed by the rest of the colony.

But the implications of the Funny Times' cartoon are even more ominous as they relate specifically to Google. Those implications point to a theory I've thought long and hard about, a theory that, when I've shared it, has gotten raised eyebrows, uncomfortable laughs and, occasionally, looks of concerned epiphany. The theory is this: Google looks very much like the next big military contractor.

It's really not much of a stretch if you think about it. Modern warfare has evolved to a stage in which information has become as important a tool as guns, bombs or aircraft. The branches of the military have long coveted--and invested heavily in--the idea of a "knowledge warrior," a soldier so connected to the information infrastructure that he can be constantly informed of the location and movements of the enemy, of his unit cohorts, and of his leaders. Or of what his temperature is, or how fast the wind is gusting. Or, for that matter, whether the Yankees won last night.

Likewise, consider the ongoing "war" on terrorism, and the extent to which Homeland Security, the FBI, and local law enforcement rely on analysis of information to predict the bad guys' next moves. Federal law enforcement officials have long sought to tap information to "connect the dots"--in other words, be able to take apparently disparate pieces of information and tie them together to discover previously unknown facts. Such as linking the fact that a suspected terrorist has bought a plane ticket to Kansas City on the same day another suspected terrorist booked a hotel room there, and using that to conjecture that something's up in K.C. A crude example, but you get my point.

The common thread here is information, and the ability to collect it, analyze it, connect it, and act upon it. Being able to do this effectively is no small task--it requires an organization adept at managing data, sorting through huge quantities of it, and providing intelligent recommendations based on it. In other words, all the things Google does so well. And that the federal government doesn't.

Given all of this, if you don't think the information-hungry practitioners of war in its various formats are looking at Google and thinking, "Sheesh, they're establishing profiles of pretty much every person using the Internet, have mapped the globe and provided anyone with the ability to zoom in on someone watering his lawn, and now they're working on building a cloud computing infrastructure that could become the technology backbone supporting all of this information--let's get them on board!", then you probably believe there was only one shooter on the grassy knoll, too.

Mark my words: Google will eventually emerge as the new Northrup Grumman or Raytheon or Halliburton. Ultimately the sheer volume of cash, combined with the proximity to power, will be too much to resist for Brin, Page & Co.

If that's not enough to convince you that my theory has merit, consider the recent trials of a video editor in Arizona who believes his Facebook and Twitter updates from the road informed burglars when to strike his home. (And let's not forget, our Facebook and Twitter pages are eminently findable on Google.) When a burglar can so easily use our incessant online blathering against us, just imagine what a crack team of military information analysts could accomplish.

In the end, like the video editor who invited disaster, we'll all have ourselves and our slavish devotion to all things Google to blame when our browsing histories are exposed to the prying eyes of the U.S. Government. I, for one, am not looking forward to that inevitable day.