Support Yasha Levine’s “Surveillance Valley” Kickstarter campaign here.
For the past year-and-a-half I’ve been covering the “Surveillance Valley” beat for Pando Daily — investigating the for-profit surveillance business that powers Silicon Valley and the way this technology is increasingly being used to monitor and control our lives.
My reporting has taken me deep inside the modern surveillance state — a place where where giant tech companies work hand in hand with the military-industrial complex and make billions by spying on our private lives.
I have exposed Google’s deep ties to US intelligence agencies and investigated Google’s role as a global for-profit intelligence agency — an entity that aims to capture and monetize as much of our activity in the real and online world as possible. I reported on the murky and criminal world of digital data brokers, and investigated the detailed dossiers that big tech companies compile on all of us. I have looked at Silicon Valley’s conflicted connections to tech watchdogs like EFF and privacy activists like Fight for the Future — people and organizations that are supposed to be fighting for our interests, not those of global tech. I have also revealed how the Pentagon and other US Government agencies are heavily involved in funding grassroots privacy technology — including tools endorsed by Edward Snowden like the Tor Project.
My work has been generously reviewed by Julian Assange, and has come to the attention of activists, scholars, journalists and politicians.
I have received death threats for my reporting. But I have also received an amazing amount of encouragement and support from readers all over the world.
The feedback showed just how worried we all are at the growing, unchecked economic and political power of Silicon Valley — and how little any of us really know about what’s going on in the boardrooms and faceless server warehouse-farms that power big tech. This response only strengthened my conviction that Silicon Valley’s reliance on surveillance to expand and maintain its power is an issue that needed to be explored deeper and at greater length.
My reporting for Pando was just the first step. Everything is so interconnected — and the big picture, the history and context is so vital to understanding at how we arrived at this dystopian version of Silicon Valley — I realized that in order to do the subject justice and tell the story properly required more time and a bigger frame of reference that’s encumbered by news cycles and constant deadlines. Put simply: I needed to write a Surveillance Valley book.
And so, with your help, that’s exactly what I’m planning to do.
The book is called Surveillance Valley: The Rise of the Google-Military Complex.
It’ll tell the story of how Silicon Valley turned the Internet into the greatest surveillance apparatus in the history of mankind — an apparatus that’s increasingly being used not just to monitor us, but to control our lives.
For reasons I’ll explain below, I’m self-publishing the book, using Kickstarter to cover the costs of research and publication. That Kickstarter launches today.
Since the start of the Internet revolution, we’ve been told that we are witnessing the dawn of a new and liberating technology — a technology that will decentralize power, topple entrenched bureaucracies, and bring more democracy and equality to the world. But the Internet did the exact opposite. It birthed massive global corporations, helped concentrate wealth and power, and expanded the reach of the U.S. National Security State.
How did a technology that supposedly held so such democratic promise so quickly devolve into the dystopian reality we see today? How is all this concentrated power affecting our democratic society? Where is it going? And where will it end?
These are some of the overarching questions that I will address in Surveillance Valley.
Why Kickstarter and not a traditional publisher?
Over the past few months, I’ve talked to several publishers about the book. All of them expressed great interest and excitement about the project, only to suddenly get cold feet. Their reaction wasn’t that surprising, considering that the book will take on not just one or two tech giants, but the whole establishment — Google, eBay, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Twitter — companies that these book publishers depend on more and more each day for their basic survival.
The more I thought about the book project and discussed it with my colleagues, the more I more I became convinced that given the subject matter and the powerful corporate interests its taking on, Surveillance Valley should be an truly independent project — a project free of pressure for publishers, advertisers and investors.
What exactly will Surveillance Valley cover?
Surveillance Valley will be an extension of my reporting for Pando Daily: an old-fashioned work of investigative non-fiction that combines my previous work with new exposés, analysis, historical research and the work of scholars and journalists — all of it stitched together in a well-written, tightly argued and immaculately sourced page-turner that will change the way people think about the Internet.
Some of the themes explored in Surveillance Valley will be familiar to readers who’ve followed my work. But the book will go much deeper and broader, exploring history and issues that I was only able address only in passing, or not all.
Surveillance Valley will be more than just a book about the Silicon Valley’s surveillance business. It will tie the issue of big tech to the bigger political and economic problems of our times: oligarchy and runaway corporate power.
We live in an age of extreme political disenfranchisement, extreme poverty and almost total control over public life by monopolistic corporate interests, a time when any kind of real democratic change seems all but impossible. It’s a bleak time, but it’s also exciting — a chance to start broad social and political movement to remake society into a community worthy of the 21st century.
The Internet, and the greater global telecommunication infrastructure, is a central part of this bigger struggle. And that makes understanding the Internet — its history, its politics, its power, where it was and where it’s going — so crucial. It’s an important discussion for us to have, but outside the work of a few great scholars like Frank Pasquale and David Golumbia it is a discussion that’s not being heard nearly enough.
I want to do my part in helping fill this void.
With your support, the book will…
Blow the lid off the Google-Military Surveillance Complex: It will investigate Google’s close relationship with US National Security State — from the DARPA grants that funded Larry Page and Sergey Brin’s PhD research to today’s multidimensional collaboration between Google and the US military-intelligence apparatus: DoD spy satellites, CIA search contracts and its aggressive expansion into every cutting-edge military tech imaginable: battlefield robots, rocket technology, Google Glass for soldiers.
Explore the Silicon Valley arms race: It will look at how other Silicon Valley companies — Amazon, eBay, Microsoft — are in a race to dominate the lucrative military and intelligence contracting market, and show how they’re explicitly aiming to become the Boeings, Lockheed-Martins and Booz Allen Hamiltons of the Internet Age.
Reveal how Silicon Valley polices our lives: There is a common misconception that no matter how much Silicon Valley companies spy on us, at least they don’t have the power to arrest and jail us. Truth is, they can and do. This book will investigate how the most progressive Internet companies — including eBay, Facebook and Google — engage in pro-active policing. For example: eBay’s massive private police alone has overseen thousands of arrests and convictions around the globe, and hands over complete criminal cases to government prosecutors “on a silver platter.”
Show what Silicon Valley knows about us and how it makes money off our privacy: Companies like Google and Facebook aggressively mine user data to compile complex and detailed dossiers, extracting personal information on our personalities, income, interests and friends. What information do these companies collect exactly? This book will explain. It will also investigate the inner workings of the Silicon Valley’s for-profit surveillance business model. What do tech companies do with all the data they collect on us? Who do they sell it to? How do they make money?
Investigate the growing political power of Silicon Valley: The Internet was supposed to decentralize power and empower the grassroots — instead it birthed massive global corporations and helped concentrate wealth and power. The book will look at big tech’s growing political and economic power, including Silicon Valley’s deepening alliance with the Koch brothers think-tank network and the ultra-conservative wing of the Republican Party.
Expose U.S. Government’s funding of anti-government privacy technology: The book will explain why the Pentagon — along with the State Department and other government agencies dedicated to expanding American power abroad — funds just about every open source Internet privacy technology in use today, including the Tor Project and other tools recommended by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Tell the real history of the Internet: In the popular telling, the story of the Internet is one of freewheeling creativity and plucky entrepreneurship. But there is another protagonist in this adventure: Uncle Sam. The book will explore the central role that the U.S. government and military played in driving the development of computer technology — from the Cold War, to WWII and all the way back to the 19th century. (A bit of trivia: did you know that the invention of the first computer was a direct consequence of a clause in the U.S. Constitution?)
Help protect your privacy: Silicon Valley spends enormous resources to keep us ignorant and in the dark about the industry’s invasive surveillance practices. We can’t protect ourselves from what we don’t know exists. This book will fill this information vacuum and expose what big tech companies — Google, Amazon, Facebook, eBay — want to keep hidden.
If you’d like to contribute to the Kickstarter campaign, and be amongst the first to receive the book, you’ll find all the details here. I really appreciate your support.
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Find out more about Surveillance Valley: The Rise of the Google-Military Complex at www.surveillancevalley.net
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