Last night the small independent book publisher OR Books held a party at Babycastles in New York celebrating Julian Assange's latest book When Google Met WikiLeaks. Assange made several remarks during the event via video conference from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, but most of his comments were addressed at Google and Eric Schmidt, who in an interview with ABC earlier this week called Assange "paranoid."
"Google has become so all-pervasive that it has become like the government," said the WikiLeaks founder. "They've even set up Google test towns where the Internet and taxis are run entirely by Google." Assange also disparaged the fact that people tend to buy into Google's "free-services" myth when the company's main priority is to "collect, store, index, and exploit" user data. "Google isn't a graduate student playground in California. It's a company just like Lockheed Martin."
Assange also accused the government of creating a revolving door between the White House staff and Google employees, pointing out that Google Ideas is a think tank with a vision of the world that directly intersects with that of the State Department. In other words, Google is "not just about ridiculous logos and curved fonts." It has an agenda and users should be aware of it.
When Google Met WikiLeaks is largely a response to and inspired by Schmidt's 2013 book The New Digital Age: Transforming Nations, Businesses, and Our Lives in which the implied message is, according to Assange, "If the company does it, it's okay. If the government does it, it's not."
Perhaps the most absurd part of the evening was when M.I.A. made an awkward appearance to talk about, erm, no one quite knows. Beyond that explanation, her brief cameo via video conference seemed entirely superfluous.
Still, it goes without saying that Assange is one of the most important dissidents of our time. He shines when talking about the dangers of the standardization of human behavior and how academics are failing to catch up with the Internet and digital age. Many of these topics are covered in the book, which is out now and absolutely worth a read.
Lauretta Charlton is Associate Editor at Complex. She thinks everyone deserves high-speed Internet access. She tweets at @laurettaland.