Robert Epstein: Big Tech’s Greatest Threat
“Ephemeral experiences”: You might never have heard this phrase, but it’s a very important concept. These are brief experiences you have online in which content appears briefly and then disappears, leaving no trace. Those are the kinds of experiences we have been preserving in our election monitoring projects. You can’t see the search results that Google was showing you last month. They’re not stored anywhere, so they leave no paper trail for authorities to trace. Ephemeral experiences are, it turns out, quite a powerful tool of manipulation.
Are people at companies like Google aware of the power they have? Absolutely… In emails leaked from Google to the Wall Street Journal in 2018, one employee says to others, “How can we use ephemeral experiences to change people’s views about Trump’s travel ban?” There is that phrase, “ephemeral experiences.”
During a period of days before the 2020 election, we found that on Google’s home page, it was sending “go vote” reminders just to liberals. That’s a powerful ephemeral message, and not a single one went to conservatives. How do we know this? Because we were recording the content our 700 “field agents” were seeing on their computer screens. That was a diverse group of registered voters we had recruited in three key swing states. Google was sending those vote reminders only to liberals. That’s a powerful manipulation that’s entirely invisible to people — unless a group like ours has found a way to monitor what people are seeing.
A preliminary analysis of the more than 500,000 ephemeral experiences we preserved in Arizona, North Carolina, and Florida, turned up some disturbing things. Number one, we found a strong liberal bias in the search results people saw on Google when they searched for political topics; this bias was absent on Bing and Yahoo. 92% of searches are conducted on Google, and we know from years of experiments we’ve conducted that biased search results can easily shift the voting preferences of undecided voters, and those are the people who decide the outcomes of close elections. In experiments, we can easily shift 20% or more of undecided voters after just one search by showing them biased search results.
In a national study we conducted in 2013, in one demographic group — moderate Republicans — we got a shift of 80% after just one search, so some people are especially trusting of search results, and Google knows this. The company can easily manipulate undecided voters using techniques like this — in other words, people who are vulnerable to being influenced.
Even before people see search results, biased search suggestions — those phrases Google flashes at you when you start to type a search term — can shift thinking and behavior. We have shown in controlled experiments that biased search suggestions can turn a 50‑50 split among undecided voters into a 90‑10 split, with no one having the slightest idea they have been manipulated.
People have no idea that manipulations like these are being used. They are simply doing what they always do — typing in a search term, clicking (sometimes) on a search suggestion, and then clicking on a high-ranking search result, which takes them to a web page. They are trusting what is high in search results, usually clicking on the first or second item and trusting that this is the best answer to their question.
Unfortunately, people mistakenly believe that computer output must be impartial and objective. People especially trust Google to give them accurate results. Therefore, when people who are undecided click on a high‑ranking search result and are taken to a Web page that supports one candidate, they tend to believe the information they’re being shown. They have no idea that they may have been driven to that web page by highly biased search results that favor the candidate Google is supporting.
Dwight D. Eisenhower did not talk about his accomplishments in his famous farewell speech of 1961. Instead, he warned us about the rise of a “technological elite” who could control public policy without anyone knowing. He warned us about a future in which democracy would be meaningless. What I have to tell you is this: The technological elite are now in control. You just don’t know it. Big Tech had the ability to shift 15 million votes in 2020 without anyone knowing that they did so and without leaving a paper trail for authorities to trace. Our calculations suggest that they actually shifted at least six million votes to President Biden without people knowing. This makes the free-and-fair election — a cornerstone of democracy — an illusion.
I am not a conservative, so I should be thrilled about what these companies are doing. But no one should be thrilled, no matter what one’s politics. No private company should have this kind of power, even if, at the moment, they happen to be supporting your side.
Do these companies think they are in charge? Are they planning a future that only they know for all of us? Unfortunately, there are many indications that the answers to these questions are yes. One of the items that leaked from Google in 2018 was an eight‑minute video called “The Selfish Ledger,” which should be accessible here. I also made a transcript of the film.
This video was never meant to be seen outside of Google, and it is about the power that Google has to reshape humanity, to create computer software that “not only tracks our behavior but offers direction towards a desired result.”
How do we protect ourselves from companies like this? It’s more difficult than you might think. How do you control a mind control machine, after all? You might have heard the phrase “regulatory capture” — an old practice in which a large company that is facing punishment from the government works with the government to come up with a regulatory plan that suits the company.
When you are talking about, for example, “breaking up” Google, all this means is that we will force them to sell off a couple of the hundreds of companies they have bought. On average, Google buys another company every week. We force them to sell off some companies, the major shareholders are enriched by billions of dollars, and the company still has the same power and poses the same threats it does today — threats to democracy, to free speech, and even to human autonomy.
Tech moves at the speed of light, but regulation and law move slowly. It’s doubtful that regulations and laws will ever be able to protect us from emerging technologies. But imagine if these companies knew that we were monitoring them on a large scale 365 days a year — that we were, in effect, doing the same thing to them that they do to us and our children 24 hours a day.
Imagine that we were, in effect, looking over the shoulders of thousands of real people (with their permission), just as the Nielsen Company does with its network of families to monitor their television watching. Imagine if these tech companies knew that they were being monitored — that even the answers they are giving people on personal assistants like Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri were being monitored. Do you think they would risk sending out targeted vote reminders to members of just one political party? I doubt it very much, because we would catch them immediately and report their manipulation to authorities and the media.
On October 30, 2020 — a few days before the November 3rd election, we went public with some of our election monitoring findings, and we got Google to back down. From the 31st on, Google started sending those vote reminders to everyone, not just to liberals.
Remember that all the usual election shenanigans are inherently competitive: tampering with votes, mail, and voting machines. But the kinds of influence that I have been discovering and studying since 2013 is not competitive. That is the difference. In other words, if Google itself wants to favor one cause or one candidate, there is no way to counteract what they are doing. In fact, without monitoring systems in place, you can’t even detect Google’s manipulations, even though they can shift the opinions and votes of millions of people. And people have no idea they’re being manipulated, which makes these kinds of manipulations especially dangerous. People end up concluding that they have made up their own minds when in fact they have not.
We have conducted controlled experiments with tens of thousands of people covering five national elections. We know how powerful these new forms of influence are. We know that people cannot see them. We know that people mistakenly end up believing that they have made up their own minds when in fact we were the ones who decided which candidate they were going to support.
What can we do? In my opinion, the solution to almost all the problems these companies present is to set up large‑scale monitoring systems and to make them permanent — not just in the United States, but around the world. Because monitoring is technology, it can keep up with whatever the new tech companies are throwing at us, and however they are threatening us, we can get them to stop.
I am envisioning a new nonprofit organization that specializes in monitoring what the tech companies are showing to voters, families, and children — protecting democracy and the autonomy and independence of all citizens. There might also be a for‑profit spinoff that could serve as a permanent funding source for the nonprofit. The for‑profit spinoff could provide commercial services to campaigns, law firms, candidates, researchers, and many others.
And there’s another way to completely eliminate the threats that Google poses to democracy and humanity. As I noted in an article I published in Bloomberg Businessweek in 2019, and as I testified before Congress that year, our government could quickly end Google’s monopoly on search by declaring that the database Google uses to generate search results is a “public commons,” accessible to all. It is a very old legal concept, and it is a light-touch form of regulation. It would rapidly lead to the creation of thousands of competing search platforms, each appealing to different audiences.
On November 5, 2020, three U.S. Senators — Senator Mike Lee, Senator Ron Johnson, and Senator Ted Cruz — sent a letter on U.S. Senate stationary to the CEO of Google. The letter talks about some of the findings from a 2020 online election monitoring project in which my team and I had discovered several things.
We had detected — just as we had in previous elections — a strong liberal bias in Google search results, but not in search results on Bing or Yahoo. That is important for comparison purposes. It was a liberal bias sufficient to have shifted at least six million votes over time toward Biden and toward other Democratic candidates.
We also found a smoking gun. This is what the Senators’ letter focuses on. We found that for a period of days before the election, on Google’s home page the company was sending a “go-vote” reminder just to liberals. Not a single one went to conservatives. How do we know this?
Because we had recruited 733 field agents in key swing states: Arizona, Florida and North Carolina. The agents were registered voters. They were diverse, politically and in other ways demographically. We knew who the liberals were, who the conservatives were, and who the moderates were.
With their permission, we had installed special software on their computers that allowed us, in effect, to look over their shoulders as they were doing politically related things on the Internet. We aggregated that data. What we are particularly interested in are what are called “ephemeral experiences.” That phrase comes right from a leak of emails from Google to The Wall Street Journal.
Ephemeral experiences — it’s a very important concept. It’s how Google and other tech companies shift opinions and votes without people knowing. We were preserving these fleeting events that impact us every day and that normally then disappear, leaving no trace. Normally, these kinds of events — like search results, search suggestions, newsfeeds, or messages coming from Facebook or Google — normally, events like these appear, they impact us, they disappear, and they are then lost forever. You can’t go back in time and see what these events were. You can’t look back at the search results Google showed you last month.
I have been conducting randomized controlled studies on the impact of ephemeral experiences on behavior, thinking, and voting now for almost eight years, so I have learned a great deal about how they work, and they are powerful. Are people at companies like Google aware of the power they have? Absolutely.
In leaked emails from Google in 2018, one employee says to others, “How can we use ephemeral experiences to change people’s views about Trump’s travel ban?” There is that phrase: “ephemeral experiences.”
Why are they interested in using ephemeral experiences to influence people — and not just us, by the way, but also people around the world? Because such experiences are extremely powerful and because they leave no paper trail for authorities to trace. They are the perfect weapon for changing people’s views or changing the outcome of elections.
We set up our first election monitoring system in 2016. We were able to preserve 13,000 election‑related searches on Google, Bing, and Yahoo. We found significant liberal bias in Google search results, sufficient to have shifted between 2.6 and 10.4 million votes to Hillary Clinton (whom I supported) without people knowing that this was occurring and without leaving a paper trail.
This was quite an accomplishment at the time. We had 95 field agents in 24 states. We preserved 13,000 searches and about 98,000 Web pages. Preserving those ephemeral events allowed us to analyze them, looking for political bias.
To compare, this year in the Presidential election we had 733 field agents in three key swing states because we knew that if there were going to be manipulations, we would most likely detect them in those states.
This time we preserved over 500,000 ephemeral events – not just on Google, but on Bing, Yahoo, Google’s home page, YouTube and Facebook. It will take us months to analyze this wealth of data.
A preliminary analysis of the data we collected yielded disturbing findings:
Number one, we found strong liberal bias in Google search results, but not in search results on Bing or Yahoo. Since 92% of searches are conducted on Google, that can shift a lot of votes — not yours, perhaps, but the votes of undecided voters — the people who decide who wins a close election.
In controlled experiments, we can easily use biased search results to shift 20% or more of undecided voters. We can shift their opinions and their voting preferences after just one search.
In one demographic group — moderate Republicans — we found a remarkable shift of 80% after just one search.
People have no idea this is occurring. People are simply doing what they always do. They are trusting what is high in search results, usually clicking on the first or second item and trusting that doing so will lead them to the best web page.
People mistakenly believe that computer output must be impartial and objective, and they especially trust Google for giving them accurate results. Therefore, when someone who is undecided clicks on a high‑ranking search result, and it takes them to a Web page that makes one candidate look better than the other, the user tends to trust the content. It has been chosen by an impartial computer algorithm, after all.
With television, newspapers, billboards, and advertisements, everyone is skeptical of what they see because they see the human hand. Also, in conventional forms of influence, there is competition. You put up your billboard, I put up mine.
The problem with platforms like Google and Facebook and Twitter is that they have no competitors. If Google itself is favoring one candidate or one party, you cannot counteract the influence that their tools are having on users.
Generally speaking, in fact, unless you do the kind of monitoring that I do, you can’t even detect what they are doing. They have tremendous power, not just here but around the world, to impact thinking, behavior, beliefs, attitudes, purchases — and votes.
I gave a speech recently at Hillsdale College. They asked me to submit a copy in writing, which I did. My title was “The Technological Elite Are Now in Control.”
It might surprise you to hear where I got that phrase from: “technological elite.” It comes from Dwight D. Eisenhower’s farewell speech as president in January 1961, which he gave a few days before John F. Kennedy was inaugurated.
Some people are old enough to remember that speech because it warned people about the rise of “the military industrial complex.” In that same speech, Eisenhower also warned about the rise of a “technological elite” who could control public policy without anyone knowing.
This was 1961, a decade before the invention of the microcomputer, decades before the invention of the Internet, decades before the founding of Google. What an extraordinary speech that was.
The usual farewell speeches of a president usually review an administration’s accomplishments. Sometimes we also get some platitudes about how great the American people are and what a great future we have to look forward to.
That is not what Eisenhower did. Remember, this was a highly decorated U.S. Army general who led the Allied forces in World War II. Eisenhower did not talk about his accomplishments. He warned us about a future in which democracy would be meaningless.
Here’s what I have to tell you about this issue: The technological elite are now in control. You just don’t know it. They had the ability to shift 15 million votes in 2020 without anyone knowing that they did so and without leaving a paper trail for authorities to trace — except, of course, for my monitoring projects.
Let me say a bit about that. What we have done is extraordinary. We have preserved hundreds of thousands of these extremely dangerous ephemeral experiences that Google and other tech companies now use deliberately to affect thinking and behavior.
How do we know it’s deliberate? Well, I’ve already mentioned those emails that leaked in 2018, and, at this point, we also have several hundred leaked documents, as well as a dozen whistleblowers who are telling us over and over again that Google, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and other tech companies have a strong political agenda and that they are using tools that people are unaware of to advance that political agenda.
I am not a conservative, so I should be thrilled about what these companies are doing. I have friends and family members who are thrilled and who are also unhappy with my research. But no one should be thrilled, no matter what one’s politics, because no private company should have the power to undermine our democracy.
Today, they might be advancing a cause you believe in, but you don’t know what cause they will be supporting tomorrow. If you look around the world, in fact, you will find that Google does not necessarily support the left outside the United States.
Here, 96% of Google’s donations go to Democrats, but in Cuba, the company supports the right because the left is in power, and the people in power don’t like Google.
In China, Google works with the Chinese government to help the government to surveil and control its population. You don’t know what these companies are going to do — what their agenda is going to be from one day to the next.
Another leak from Google is a PowerPoint presentation called “The Good Censor.” In this presentation Google explains that, by default, it is the world’s censor, but that it is a “good” censor because the decisions they make about what we see and do not see are good decisions. According to whom? (For further information on this issue, see my article, “The New Censorship,” in U.S. News & World Report.)
The problem here is that these companies are not accountable to us. Our elected officials are, and they come and go. We can vote them out of office, but Google is not accountable to anyone, except maybe its shareholders.
Facebook is not even accountable to its shareholders. Mark Zuckerberg holds the lion’s share of voting stock, so he is not accountable to anyone.
These are the executives who now control the most powerful tools of manipulation ever invented.
I discovered the first such tool in 2013 — the Search Engine Manipulation Effect — SEME for short. Since then, I have discovered a dozen similar new forms of online influence and have been studying and quantifying them over the years.
Manipulating search suggestions, for example — those little phrases that flash at you as you are typing a search term into the search bar — can turn a 50‑50 split among undecided voters into a 90‑10 split with no one having the slightest idea they have been manipulated. I call this manipulation the Search Suggestion Effect (SSE).
Those answer boxes you see above the search results also impact opinions and votes. Did you know that 50% of Google searches no longer end in a click? Think about what that means. In other words, while someone is typing a search term, Google flashes an answer and many people just accept it. No click. I’ve been studying this phenomenon too; I call it the Answer Bot Effect (ABE).
How about the Google Home device or the Google Assistant on Android phones? You ask a question, and a computerized voice simply gives you “the answer.” This also shifts opinions and votes, just as those answer boxes do. But where did that answer come from? Who decided that that was the correct answer? Who checked it? Was it checked by any experts or scholars? Of course not. The answers Google gives you serve the company’s needs. They make more money for the company, shift political thinking according to company values, or both.
Perhaps you have an Apple iPhone, and Siri gives you answers, so you’re free from Google’s influence, right? But do you know where Siri gets its answers from? From Google. Siri is just an extension of Google. Apple pays Google $6 billion a year to get those answers.
Let me just finish by pointing out some very broad issues here. We are all aware at this point that under the Trump administration (but not under Obama), several federal agencies went after Google, and to some extent, Facebook: the FCC, the FTC, the DOJ, and so on. You might also have heard about our government’s plans for breaking up Big Tech companies. I work with members of Congress, with people from the DOJ, and with the attorneys general of several states, and I can tell you that all that is happening here is “regulatory capture.”
That’s a very old practice in which a large company that is facing punishment from the government works with the government to come up with a plan that suits the company. That is what is happening right now. You might think that these companies are on the verge of being tamed, but that is not the case.
When you are talking about breaking up Google, for example, all this means is that the government will force them to sell off some of the hundreds of companies they have bought over the years. On average, Google buys another company every week.
When they sell off companies, the major shareholders will be enriched by billions of dollars, and the company will still have the same power it has now. It will still present the same threats it currently poses to democracy, to free speech, and even to human autonomy.
This is because you cannot break up the Google search engine itself, and, in the case of Facebook, you cannot break up the social media platform itself. For both companies, these central platforms give these companies three powers which pose, in my view, grave threats to democracy and humanity.
The first power is surveillance. Google is observing us and our children using more than 200 different tools that people are entirely unaware of. If you wear a Fitbit device, first of all, you should throw it away. Google recently purchased Fitbit, which allows it to track physiological data about you and your children 24 hours a day. If you have a smart thermostat in your house made by the Nest company, I suggest you replace with an old-fashioned one from Home Depot as soon as possible. About five years ago, Google bought Nest, after which it installed microphones into the smart thermostats without telling anyone. The most recent versions of the thermostats have cameras in them, as well.
Google uses a business model which is called the “surveillance business model,” which Google invented 20 years ago, and that model has since spread to thousands of other companies. They trick us into using software or gadgets that spy on us, and then they monetize the personal information they’re collecting.
They have no actual products. We the people are their products. That is the world that we will be handing over to our kids and grandkids. To me, that is unacceptable.
What can we do? Unfortunately, not just because of regulatory capture, but for other reasons as well, I do not believe that laws or regulations are going to solve this problem. Laws and regulations move very slowly, while technology moves at lightning speed.
So what, if anything, can we do? In my opinion, the solution to almost all the problems that these companies present is to set up monitoring systems of the sort that I have set up, but to set them up on a very large scale and to make them permanent — not just in the United States, but around the world.
Monitoring is technology, so it can detect and expose whatever new manipulations tech companies are dishing out, and it can also get them to stop.
How do I know this? Because on Thursday, October 29, 2020, we got Google to back down on a blatant manipulation. On that day, I decided to go public with some of our monitoring results, and I was communicating all day with a reporter, Ebony Bowden, from the New York Post. I sent her lots of details about what we were finding. She drafted an article that day about evidence my team and I had collected which suggested that there had been large‑scale election rigging in 2020.
Her editor asked Google for comments on the article before it was to be printed the next day. Even without asking for comments, Google knew all about the upcoming article, because the New York Post, like The New York Times and The Guardian and hundreds of other newspapers, not to mention thousands of schools and universities, shares all its emails with Google. (See my article on this topic in The Daily Caller here.)
That night, two things happened — one bad, one good. The bad thing is that the article was pulled, killed. In other words, I was censored by the conservative, Trump-supporting New York Post, which is crazy. How could that have happened? Might someone from Google have reminded the powers that be at the Post that 32% of the newspaper’s traffic comes from Google? Google could shut down the Post in a heartbeat.
The New York Post had taken on Twitter just a few weeks before, because Twitter was suppressing its negative story about Hunter Biden. The Post could take on Twitter because only 5% of its traffic comes from Twitter, but taking on Google would have been risky.
And a second thing happened that night, important because it means there is hope for the future. A few minutes before midnight on Thursday, October 29th, Google stopped its targeted “go-vote” manipulation. From that point on until the end of Election Day, all 733 of our field agents received those go‑vote reminders. The targeting stopped.
Imagine if these companies knew that we were monitoring them on a large scale 365 days a year — that we were, in effect, looking over the shoulders of thousands of real people, just as the Nielsen Company does with the Nielsen families. Nielsen monitors television watching; that is where the Nielsen ratings come from.
Imagine if these tech companies knew they were being monitored — that even the answers they were giving on personal assistants were being monitored. Do you think they would risk sending out targeted vote reminders just to some political groups and not others? I doubt it, because they would risk fines and even jail sentences by doing so.
We need to find the resources and the will to create large‑scale, permanent monitoring systems. They will protect our children and maybe even our grandchildren from manipulation by new technologies. They will protect democracy, free speech, and human autonomy. That is the vision I’m sharing with you today.
I’ll finish by giving you a couple of links. One is MyGoogleResearch.com, If you scroll to the bottom of the page, you will find a link to the letter that was sent by three US senators to the CEO of Google, on November 5th, 2020.
If you are interested in my solution to the coronavirus problem, please visit NationalTestingDay.com. And if you are interested in how to get some privacy online, I recommend that you read my article at MyPrivacyTips.com. It begins, “I haven’t received a targeted ad on my computer or mobile phone since 2014.” You can learn how to protect yourself and your family from aggressive new kinds of surveillance that are operating 24 hours a day. You can learn how to begin to get some privacy back in your life.
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The following is a transcript from a briefing Dr. Epstein delivered to Gatestone Institute on November 10, 2020
Question: Have you found anything from the November 3rd election?
Dr. Epstein: Yes, definitely. We found a consistent pro‑liberal bias in all 10 search positions on the first page of Google search results, sufficient to have shifted millions of votes over time — not the votes of people who are strongly committed but the votes of people who are undecided, trying to make up their minds. Six months before a national election in the U.S., that’s about 30 million people.
We also found that bias in every demographic group that we’ve looked at so far, including conservatives. In other words, Google was sending pro‑liberally‑biased search results to conservatives, not just to liberals.
You cannot look at search results with the naked eye and see this happening. You need to look at the news sources and web pages, which is what we do. Of course, we also found that smoking gun, namely, a go‑vote reminder being sent exclusively to liberals.
It is my understanding that these senators are going to subpoena the CEO of Google again and that I will be at the same hearing. They are going to say to this man, “How do you explain Dr. Epstein’s results?” They’re trying to catch him in an outright lie so that he can be charged with lying to Congress.
Question: What can be done by private businesses to expose or stop all of this? It seems a potential national security threat.
Dr. Epstein: I am not sure about the security threat. Google works closely with our intelligence agencies. Google was created in part with funds that came from the NSA and the CIA. The thinking at the time was pretty reasonable. Google was building a very good gateway to information on the Internet.
The thinking of the intelligence community was that this would be a good way for us to find people who want to build bombs, to find people who want to hurt our government, and to find people who are a risk to national security. Google works closely with our intelligence agencies and with other intelligence agencies around the world.
The national security issue is a bit complicated because of that long‑running collaboration. There is no question, though, that Google and, to a lesser extent, other tech companies, pose a serious threat to democracy. I do not think at this point that we even have a democracy anymore. The warning that Eisenhower gave us has come true.
Eisenhower urged us to be vigilant because he thought a technological elite would arise that would control public policy without us knowing. In my opinion, as I mentioned, we are already there. In the swing states, at least, if you look at how close the vote was, I can say on the record that I do not believe that Biden could have won this election without the clandestine support of the tech community.
Looking at the numbers, I suspect that President Trump would have won the election by a large margin without that form of influence. [Emphasis added.]
Question: How much of your findings are relevant to election recount efforts? Are we simply on notice for the future?
Dr. Epstein: The recount efforts, in my opinion, are not going to go anywhere. As a lawyer told me many years ago, you have got to give a judge something to hang his or her hat on.
Remember that tampering with votes, mail, and voting machines is competitive, whereas the kinds of influence that I have been studying are not competitive. That is the difference. In other words, if Google itself wants to favor one cause or one candidate, there is no way to counteract what it is doing.
It is not like television ads or mail tampering, because this type of influence is not competitive. That is why it is incredibly dangerous. The fact that people cannot even see the influence makes it even more dangerous. People end up concluding that they have made up their own minds when in fact they have not. We know this because we have done experiments with tens of thousands of people covering five national elections.
We know how powerful these new forms of influence are. We know that people cannot see them. We know that people mistakenly end up believing that they have made up their own minds when in fact we were the ones who decided which candidate they were going to support. We decided, not them.
Question: What about these findings that certain algorithms and mechanisms within the actual ballot machines can physically switch a vote from one candidate to another?
Dr. Epstein: I have been reading those reports. In court, you have to have evidence not only that that is possible but that it actually occurred. Then you have to show — that is the hard part — that there was consistent tampering in one direction only. It is not enough to show what is possible. It is not enough to come up with some examples of irregularities. You have to show consistent shifting of votes in one direction. But we are talking about activities that are inherently competitive. In other words, there have always been irregularities on both sides — always — and there always will be.
I saw some clips from Fox News from the 2018 election in which some of the hosts on Fox News were making fun of some of the Democratic candidates who had lost. At that point, Democratic candidates were claiming that there was vote tampering going on in that election, that they only lost because of cheating, of fraud, of vote tampering.
Of course, that went nowhere. So far, the lawsuits that have been filed and that have been heard by the courts have been thrown out. Given the numbers that we have at this point, this election is over.
Biden ended up with 306 electoral college votes, which, by the way, is exactly what Trump had in 2016. Biden does not even need a couple of those swing states. The margins in those states — three of which we were monitoring — are not small margins.
Some of you remember the Gore versus Bush matter in which the Supreme Court decided to stop the recount in Florida. Al Gore was very gracious, even though he had won the popular vote by 500,000 votes. There was some question about irregularities, certainly, in the vote count in Florida.
Question: Based on what you are saying, there will be no more Republican election victories. There will never be any other honest election.
Dr. Epstein: That is why I was asking about how we move forward. That is the question. How are we going to move forward? What disturbs me most about a Biden presidency is that the investigations into the tech companies that began under Trump might be shut down.
There is precedent for that, because in January 2013 when Obama began his second term, one of the first actions he took was to shut down the anti‑trust investigation that was underway against Google by the Department of Justice. That was just after someone from Google visited the White House.
Obama’s chief technology officer was a former Google executive. So was Hillary Clinton’s chief technology officer, Stephanie Hannon. By the end of Obama’s second term, six federal agencies were being run by former Google executives. 250 people swapped high positions in his administration with high positions at Google. There were 450 visits to the White House by Google representatives — about 10 times more than any other company.
I have real concerns here about what the future is going to be like. The tech companies might be able to consolidate their power over the next four to eight years. We might never be able to fight them after that.
But we can still set up those monitoring systems which, at the very least, will prevent them from manipulating our elections. That is my vision: to set up systems that will protect humanity, democracy, and free speech. That, I believe, we can do with private funds no matter who is in power.
To make sure they do their job properly, monitoring organizations should be independent of government. If they are controlled by the government, the ruling party will make sure there is never a free-and-fair election again.
I am thinking about large‑scale, non‑partisan monitoring systems that report irregularities as they occur and that preserve data that is normally lost forever.
Question: You mentioned at the beginning about receiving an email and a letter from an attorney in DC telling you to disappear for a while for your own good. Have you been intimidated by anyone or anything into stopping your work?
Dr. Epstein: I have not been intimidated. I have received these warnings before. They do concern me. I had a reporter contact me about my research. He had a lot of questions, of course. Then he called me a couple of days later. He said he called Google to get comments on my research. He said he was speaking, he believed, with the head of their public relations department.
He said, “She screamed at me.” He said, “I’ve never had that happen before.” Then he said, “I have two things to say about that. Number one, you have their attention, and number two, if I were you, I would take precautions.”
In 2019, I testified before Congress about my research and about my concerns. I also gave a private briefing to some of the AGs about these issues. Afterwards, one of these AGs — I will never forget this — came up to me said, quite seriously, “Dr. Epstein, I think that in the next few months, you are going to die in an accident.” Then he walked away. A few months later, I did not die in an accident, but my wife did — the day after Christmas in 2019. I am still wearing my wedding band.
I have some concerns. I mean, I have five children. I want them to be safe, obviously. Google sent a private investigator to my house a few years ago, which was quite disturbing to my wife and to people I was working with at the time.
Question: You talked about thermostats now having cameras and microphones in them. Big Brother is becoming reality. Has this not been exposed by Congress or the media, and if not, why not?
Dr. Epstein: First of all, this has gone so far that it is almost terrifying. The fact is, if you have an Android phone, that phone is listening. If you disconnect from your service provider, the phone is still listening and it is still keeping track of where you go during the day, what books you read on your phone, what music you listen to on your phone, and so on — all your emails, everything — the most confidential personal emails that you send out, your phone is tracking all that. The moment you reconnect with the Internet or reconnect with your mobile service provider, it uploads all that information to Google.
The surveillance is completely out of hand, and you are saying, “Well, what about Congress?” The problem, you see, is that many members of Congress are getting money from Google, and the Democrats are also getting votes.
As you may or may not know, many nonprofit organizations are also getting money from Google, including some prestigious conservative organizations. That is probably one of the reasons I found it almost impossible to fund my 2020 monitoring project.
Google is putting lots of money into the pockets of members of Congress, and Google knows more about members of Congress than they themselves do.
It is very hard for anyone — any business, certainly — to go up against Google. You are risking the future of your business. I had dinner the other night with some friends from Breitbart. (Many of my friends now are conservatives, which is crazy.) They told me that Google has eliminated about 99% percent of their traffic. How do you fight that?
The members of Congress are for the most part immobilized. There are very few who are doing what Ted Cruz is doing, and they are taking a tremendous risk when they do. Why isn’t Congress acting? Because Google controls Congress.
Question: The monster is so enormous that nothing can be done to challenge or dismantle it?
Dr. Epstein: I would not say that exactly. For example, the day before I testified before Congress, I published an article in Bloomberg Businessweek, explaining how Congress, the DOJ, or the FTC could quickly end Google’s monopoly on search. They just have to declare that the database Google uses to generate search results is a public commons.
It is a very old legal concept, and it is a light-touch form of regulation. It would lead to the creation of thousands of competing search platforms, each appealing to different audiences. Search would become just like news media. It would become highly competitive, just as it used to be before Google became a monopoly, and search would also become far more innovative if this happened. There have been no innovations in online search since Google took control.
Congress could make Google’s database public. They could negotiate with Google, saying, “This is what you need to do. We need you to agree, and if you don’t, we’ll do something far worse.” The EU could also make it happen. That is a more interesting possibility, because the members of the European Parliament, for the most part, are not in Google’s pocket.
Congress could also help us to set up monitoring systems, but it’s important that these systems stay free from government control. If these systems are sophisticated enough, and if we can find ways to fund them long‑term, I don’t think we’ll have to rely on laws and regulations to protect humanity from new technologies.
Question: How much is possibly budgeted for this, please, to set up a permanent monitoring system, large scale?
Dr. Epstein: To set it up so that it is credible and also large enough to keep these companies at bay — that’s a $50 million project. $50 million will allow us over an 18‑month period to set up a sophisticated system that is running in all 50 states.
I am also envisioning a for‑profit spinoff that would have access to the data the nonprofit is collecting. The for‑profit will provide commercial services to campaigns, to law firms, candidates, researchers, all sorts. It will also support the nonprofit financially.
With me or without me, whether I’m dead or alive, I do not see this project as optional. In other words, permanent monitoring systems must be set up to protect democracy and humanity from the threats that emerging technologies are posing.
The numbers in the experiments are extraordinary. We recently started a new line of research on what we’re calling YME: the YouTube Manipulation Effect. 70% of the videos that people watch now on YouTube around the world are suggested by Google’s “up‑next” algorithm. Think of the power that a sequence of videos has on the mind of someone who is impressionable, who is vulnerable, or who is undecided. Think of how a sequence of videos — selected by Google — can affect young children.
We are in the process now of studying and rigorously quantifying this effect. By the way, at this point in our 2020 election monitoring, we have captured more than 7,000 YouTube sequences. We weren’t just tracking search results this time.
YouTube video sequences are also ephemeral, just like search results and search suggestions, which means they don’t leave a paper trail. But we have found ways not only to preserve them but also to study them.
Question: Could you tell us the search engines you consider safe?
Dr. Epstein: If you go to MyPrivacyTips.com, you will see what I use. My article is a bit out of date, but the search engine I use is called Swisscows.com. It’s a terrible name but a great search engine, and it doesn’t track you.
I also maintain a special link — PryvateSearch.com — “pryvate” with a Y. That will always link to whichever search engine I think is the safest one to use. Right now, it links to Swisscows.
There are many tools out there that don’t track you. They have a different business model, not the deceptive surveillance business model. Companies don’t need to spy on people to make money, obviously. Corporate spying is new, and it should be made illegal.
If you have been using the Internet as I have for 20 years, Google has the equivalent of about three million pages of information about you. They even have information about your DNA if you were ever foolish enough to send off some of your saliva to 23andMe. 23andMe is Google.
Tim Cook, CEO of Apple computers, has gone on record saying that he thinks that the surveillance business model is “creepy.” It is not a legitimate way of doing business. It is inherently deceptive. You think you are using a search engine. You think you are using an email service or a spreadsheet. That is not what they are. These are just surveillance platforms. The function that you think they serve, that is there just to fool you. It is to trick you into giving up a massive amount of personal data.
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Dr. Robert Epstein is a senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology and the former editor‑in‑chief of “Psychology Today” magazine. A PhD of Harvard University, he has published 15 books on artificial intelligence, parenting, and other topics, as well as more than 300 scientific and popular articles.
Thu, 04/08/2021 – 23:00