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Why do we trust Google more than the government?

Elsa S. Hestriana
Elsa S. Hestriana

An International Relations graduate concerned about your safety on the internet

Jakarta | Tue, November 21, 2017 | 08:42 am
Why do we trust Google more than the government?

The data that our government tries to collect from us is nothing compared to the data we voluntarily give to private companies. (Shutterstock/Chonlachai)

Millennials are said to be a tech-savvy generation. But how aware are we of our digital footprint and security in cyberspace?

Seeing how some people reacted to the recent regulation on registering phone number by using ID card and Kartu Keluarga (family card) numbers, it appears that we are aware of the risks to our data security. Some of us question the government with our data safety, even though we are also aware of the potential benefits such as capturing phone and SMS fraudsters.

Despite the skepticism, I think it’s good that at least the people are critical toward the government about their privacy and do not easily give up their personal data to the authorities.

However, the same treatment does not apply to private technology giants such as Facebook, Google or Twitter. We trust them with our data (and life) and we don’t have any second thoughts when using them. It has become a reflex to go to Google whenever a question pops into our heads. We’re so attached to it that when you think about it, Google knows your name, where you live and who your friends are. It also knows what you’re thinking, your plans and maybe even your deepest and darkest secrets. Computer security expert Moxie Marlinspike once asked, “Who knows more about the citizens of their country: Kim Jong-Il or Google?”

Simply put, the data that our government tries to collect from us is nothing compared to the data we’ve been voluntarily giving to these private companies. Now, the question is, why do we trust these private companies more than our very own government?

To answer this, perhaps we should throw the question, “Would you trust Mark Zuckerberg and Sundar Pichai, who have worked for years to create a better data storage system, or the bureaucrats inside the government, who have attempted to limit your activities online, when it comes to storing your data securely?” Forbes contributor Sarah Landrum argues that this is because of the “global political climate where corporations, particularly tech-savvy ones, move at a speed light-years ahead of any regulatory or government body.” It is easier to go along with these companies because they offer better and stronger systems. It is also likely that even our government is dependent on them.

The second illustration that best explains this is Marlinspike’s public lecture back in 2010. He started by comparing between fascism and social democracy. Fascism is when the government compels us to carry a tracking device at all times, which we would most likely oppose. On the other hand, almost everyone today carries a mobile phone at all times, and we even pay for it. That is social democracy. So, what is the difference between the two? The answer is choice. We have the choice to turn off our phones, we have the choice not to carry it with us all the time, and we have the choice not to even have one in the first place. But, would we really take that choice?

Turning off our phone, or at least the internet connection, for just a few hours could give us anxiety. This anxiety comes from what Marlinspike described as the “no-network effect,” where value is placed on the number of people connected to the network. For example, you will be a victim of the no-network effect if you’re the only one in your circle who doesn’t use Facebook, WhatsApp or Instagram. It also works vice versa, when you’re the only one uses them.

This is when a simple choice becomes a complex demand. The simple choice of whether or not I want to have a mobile phone has expanded into the question of whether or not I want to participate in society. It has become increasingly demanded of us to be connected to the internet at all times because our work, social and even love life is dependent on it. Nobody wants to be a victim of the no-network effect when the world is increasingly connected each day. In short, it’s not only that these companies are the ones we trust, but they’ve also created a society that demands us to participate in the system.

Additionally, this is supported by the way these companies sell themselves and build their image. They’ve always presented themselves as the social media that connects people around the world, creates new opportunities, supports the freedom of expression and then packages their products with friendly-colored logos. However, with the amount of personal data that they have and how they run their businesses using that data, we might as well call them a surveillance business.

So, if the government would like to gain more sympathy from the people when it comes to storing public data, they might want to apply a similar approach. Maybe it’s time for the government to distance itself from the image of a “government spying on citizens,” and begin to create friendlier brand. But of course, most important is building a strong system that we can actually trust and feel safe about.


Elsa is an International Relations graduate from the University of Indonesia. She has been putting her mind to the debate of internet privacy vs. security. In her spare time, she also writes about short films, fashion or day-to-day millennial problems. Check out her other pieces on or get in touch on Twitter @elsatoar.

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