Imaginary Letter: Google CEO Larry Page Writes Congress, Asks “What’s Up With PRISM?”


Over the years, Google has received several letters from the US Congress worried that it is somehow invading people’s privacy. Now Congress, along with the Obama Administration and the US judicial system, is accused of invading the privacy of people who use Google’s services. I thought the turnabout would be fair play, a letter from Google back to Congress.

The letter below isn’t real, but the points and unanswered questions are. I’ve written in the style of the latest letter Google received from Congress, last month about Google Glass. As Google professes it is not part of any data gathering operation like PRISM, I could see it quite seriously looking to answers for some of these questions.

To: Congress of the United States

From: Larry Page, CEO, Google

Dear Congress:

On June 6, the Washington Post and the Guardian published information about “PRISM.” The reports indicated this was technology that helps you explore and share everyone’s worlds. The creation of PRISM is said to allow you to take pictures, messages, emails and basically ask whatever you want to know about people. “They quite literally can watch your ideas form as you type,” one of the reports said.

Since this announcement, there have been a number of articles written discussing not only the vast potential of this technology to fight terrorism but also the possible overreach and abuse implications of it. For example, senator Mark Udall of Colorado recently said: “I think that we’ve overreached. I think that we ought to have this discussion and we can find the right balance….But if the people don’t know, how do you have the discussion?”

In addition, some bar recently said it doesn’t trust Congress and so was banning congressional reps from the establishment, due to privacy concerns. If some bar does something like this, obviously we have to take that as serious evidence — rather than a publicity stunt — that further investigation is warranted.

As one of the accused in what appear to be NSA PowerPoint slides about PRISM (which seem to have been produced using 2003 technology and design, have you considered our Google Docs?), I am curious how we ended up being named as a so-called PRISM partner as of January 14, 2009 (and our YouTube service about a year before that):

Because PRISM wasn’t even formally acknowledged until yesterday, and because the US government has a tendency to make requests that are declared so secret that they can’t even be acknowledged, we are uncertain how to respond.

Sure, we’ve said we don’t know what PRISM is and that we’re not part of any direct feed of data as described. But that makes some think that we have no choice but to say this, because by law, we might not be allowed to say anything else.

We could try to explain that if we were part of such a program, those laws would much more likely cause us to say “No Comment” rather than the flat-out denial we’ve been making. But even then, there are still unanswered questions. Accordingly, we would appreciate the answer to questions that follow:

1) Why Not Disclose Gathering? “It’s called protecting America,” said Senator Diane Feinstein, about the massive phone logging system that was revealed this week and which seems, if not part of PRISM, very akin to it. If this is about protecting America, shouldn’t America also be protected by abuses by knowing it’s happening?

Many have suspected that the US and other governments harvest data like this. Why can’t the people themselves be told, perhaps through a 42-page privacy document? I can assure you that speaking for our company and others like Apple, no one will read these documents anyway.

2) Why Not Acknowledge If We’re Willing Participants Or Not? Could you explain more clearly if PRISM is really doing what the Washington Post and the Guardian have alleged, that it has a direct line into our servers. So far, President Barack Obama (I’m writing to him separately) has said only that PRISM is real and doesn’t involve US citizens, only non-US citizens.

That’s not really answering the question about whether we or our fellow tech companies (who also deny this) are involved or not. So, can you please explain that we’re not involved, so people will stop calling us liars? Or if we are involved directly, can you step up and acknowledge that? You know, so we can get out of our double-secret probation and be able to talk about all this?

3) Why Not Explain How You Do This Without Us? Since, of course, we’re not involved — could someone explain more of the technical details of how this is working? Are you perhaps intercepting network traffic that goes through ISPs without our cooperation, but some eager intelligent analyst has slapped our logo along with others onto a slide to give the impression there’s somehow a direct line into our servers?

4) Anti-Trust Much? As you’re now gathering more information that we are, will you be subjecting yourself to an anti-trust review?

5) Want Data? Give Away Free Products! Have you considered offering things like free email or phone calls? Because if you’re trying to gather data about people, we and our fellow tech companies can tell you from experience, you should just give stuff away for free.

We request your responses to the above questions no later than Friday, June 14, 2013. If you have any questions regarding this request, please create a Google+ account for Congress and post them there.

Sincerely, Larry Page

Related Articles

Related Topics: Channel: Consumer | Google: Legal | Google: Privacy | Legal: PRISM | Legal: Privacy


About The Author: is Founding Editor of Marketing Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search marketing and internet marketing issues, who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • Paul E. Ester

    Poking funny at something like this, is not funny Danny. I made it to the google docs reference and stopped reading. There is nothing cute or funny about this privacy RAPE by the STAZI’s and GOOG’S early participation in it.

  • Danny Sullivan

    Well, we don’t actually know that Google is involved. It’s said that it’s not, twice now. So while you don’t find the letter funny, the issues — as I said — are quite serious and need answers now from the US government.

  • Luiz Carlos Conte

    Fantastic! Well done. Here in Brazil we’re worried too

  • Illogicalthinker

    It’s sort of a satire.

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