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Google Drive censors files of Pfizer whistleblower
... and Google's stated reasons were obviously false.
May 27, 2024
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Another day, another story of Big Tech suppressing information and censoring individuals.

What follows is a story which deals with topics that many will find extremely political.  But, in truth, the core of this story is one which should be a concern to everyone, regardless of political stances: Big Tech (in this case, Google) actively censoring whistleblower material regarding a different corporation.

Google Drive vs The Pfizer Whistleblower

On May 8th, 2024, a corporate whistleblower by the name of Melissa McAtee, uploaded a 40 slide PowerPoint file to her Google Drive.

That PowerPoint slide deck -- "Pfizer testimony.pptx" -- contained documentation and emails from her time working for Pfizer.  Over the days that followed, Mrs McAtte shared this file with others.

15 days later, on May 23rd, Google sent an email to Mrs McAtee, letting her know that Google had determined the file "contains content that may violate Google Drive's Dangerous and Illegal Activities policy" and that "Some features related to this file may have been restricted."

Screenshot of the email to Mellisa McAtee

 

What, exactly, is the "Google Drive Dangerous and Illegal Activity" policy?  Turns out... it consists of just one paragraph.  Here it is, in its entirety.

"Do not use this product to engage in illegal activities or to promote activities, goods, services, or information that cause serious and immediate harm to people or animals. While we permit general information for educational, documentary, scientific, or artistic purposes about this content, we draw the line when the content directly facilitates harm or encourages illegal activity. We will take appropriate action if we are notified of unlawful activities, which may include reporting you to the relevant authorities, removing access to some of our products, or disabling your Google Account."

Which begs the question... did this PowerPoint file "directly facilitate harm or encourage illegal activity"?

The short answer: No.  Not even remotely.

The Lunduke Journal reached out to Mrs McAtee to obtain a copy of this file, which was promptly provided.  And, after a careful review, it can be definitively said that this file neither facilitates harm, nor encourages illegal activity.

Title page of the censored PowerPoint file.

The contents of this PowerPoint slide deck consists predominantly of notated screenshots of corporate emails and policy documents.  Which, while some of the contents may be embarrassing to Pfizer (a mega corporation of over 80,000 employees, with roughly $100 Billion in revenue for 2020), those leaked emails or policy documents are not even remotely "directly facilitating harm".

Most of this censored PowerPoint file looks like this.  Screenshots of emails and documents.

Regardless of what you, me, or anyone else thinks of any politically charged topics surrounding Pfizer, vaccines, the medical industry, or corporate whistleblowers... this incident raises a few questions regarding both Google and censorship of digital files.

Why, exactly, did Google censor this file?

As of this moment, the details of why Google censored this file remains... murky.

Being as it can be easily demonstrated that this PowerPoint file does not violate Google Drives "Dangerous and Illegal Activity" in any obvious way (ie. it does not "directly facilitate harm or encourage illegal activity"), this suggests that there is some other reason for this censorship.

  • Did Pfizer request or demand the censorship?
  • Is there a business relationship between Google and Pfizer at play?
  • Was this censorship approved because of personal, political leanings of leadership within Google?
  • Or, perhaps, is this simply a matter of file scanning and AI systems auto-censoring files stored within Google Drive?

The truth is, while many will make some assumptions regarding Google's motives, we don't really know.

When The Lunduke Journal asked Mrs McAtee, she was uncertain of what initiated the censorship.  "It may have been reported," stated McAtee.  "Or they had AI scan it because it had the word Pfizer in it."

The Lunduke Journal reached out to Google for comment and clarification.  Likewise, The Lunduke Journal reached out to Pfizer, asking if their company had requested that Google censor this material.  As of the publishing of this article, no response has been received from either company.

What we do know: Their real reasons for censoring this file were not, at all, what they stated to the person they censored.

Is it safe to store files with Google?

Regardless of why Google decided to censor this file, one thing is made very clear:

If we, as individuals, are looking to store critical, or potentially controversial files... Google Drive (and, likely, other Google services) are not reliable systems to use.

Because Google censors files.  And they misrepresent their reasons for doing so.

It's also important to note that this is not an isolated incident.  Google has a long track record of censoring, shadow-banning, and otherwise removing content from all of their services.  Be it public facing videos on YouTube or personal files stored on Google Drive.

Heck, The Lunduke Journal was temporarily banned from YouTube -- earlier this year -- after the publishing of polling data which Google / YouTube did not like.  And that was not the first time YouTube censored The Lunduke Journal for expressing an opinion or publishing a set of data.

So.  Is it safe to store files with Google?  Can we count on them, as a company, to not arbitrarily censor content?  Obviously not.

Where can we reliably store sensitive files?

While Google is, obviously, not a good option to store or distribute files (unless you want them censored without warning or cause)... there are, luckily, a few options out there which are a bit more... reliable.

Both Rumble and Locals have taken firm non-censorship stances on published videos.  Likewise Locals and Substack have stood firm on not censoring articles, PDFs, and other types of files (even when their executive teams and staff disagree or dislike the content being published).

And, of course, there is always the option of self-hosting your own files -- which provides an extra layer of safety from censorship.  But that's a bigger topic, for a different time.

But, if you are going to use Google (or other Big Tech services for hosting your potentially sensitive files)... be sure to have local backups.  Because the odds of your files being deleted for "wrong think" are... non zero.

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Last week at The Lunduke Journal (June 9 - June 15, 2024)
Firefox! Russia! WWDC! Open Source A.I.!

My-oh-my.  Another wild week at The Lunduke Journal!  It all kicked off with a live video commentary of Apple's WWDC keynote (which was banned by YouTube, but still available at the links below), then quickly moves to Mozilla and Open Source AI.

The Videos

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The CIA, NSA, and Pokémon Go

Back in July of 2016, I wrote a short article for Network World entitled “The CIA, NSA, and Pokémon Go."

While the title was certainly viewed as a bit “over the top” and “conspiracy theorist-y”, it was really just a collection of (in my opinion, rather bizarre) facts that – even without any sinister connection – were worth documenting. I am republishing it here, with some additional (increasingly odd) details added at the end (including radio and TV appearances related to this article).

Some of the details relating to the exact permissions and capabilities of the Pokémon application have changed over the last few years… but everything else remains correct, factual, and up to date.

 


 

The CIA, NSA, and Pokémon Go

With Pokémon Go currently enjoying, what I would call, a wee-bit-o-success, now seems like a good time to talk about a few things people may not know about the world's favorite new smartphone game.

This is not an opinion piece. I am not going to tell you Pokémon Go is bad or that it invades your privacy. I’m merely presenting verifiable facts about the biggest, most talked about game out there.

Let’s start with a little history

Way back in 2001, Keyhole, Inc. was founded by John Hanke (who previously worked in a “foreign affairs” position within the U.S. government). The company was named after the old “eye-in-the-sky” military satellites. One of the key, early backers of Keyhole was a firm called In-Q-Tel.

In-Q-Tel is the venture capital firm of the CIA. Yes, the Central Intelligence Agency. Much of the funding purportedly came from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). The NGA handles combat support for the U.S. Department of Defense and provides intelligence to the NSA and CIA, among others.

Keyhole’s noteworthy public product was “Earth.” Renamed to “Google Earth” after Google acquired Keyhole in 2004.

In 2010, Niantic Labs was founded (inside Google) by Keyhole’s founder, John Hanke.

Over the next few years, Niantic created two location-based apps/games. The first was Field Trip, a smartphone application where users walk around and find things. The second was Ingress, a sci-fi-themed game where players walk around and between locations in the real world.

In 2015, Niantic was spun off from Google and became its own company. Then Pokémon Go was developed and launched by Niantic. It’s a game where you walk around in the real world (between locations suggested by the service) while holding your smartphone.

Data the game can access

Let’s move on to what information Pokémon Go has access to, bearing the history of the company in mind as we do.

When you install Pokémon Go on an Android phone, you grant it the following access (not including the ability to make in-app purchases):

Identity

  • Find accounts on the device

Contacts

  • Find accounts on the device

Location

  • Precise location (GPS and network-based)

  • Approximate location (network-based)

Photos/Media/Files

  • Modify or delete the contents of your USB storage

  • Read the contents of your USB storage

Storage

  • Modify or delete the contents of your USB storage

  • Read the contents of your USB storage

Camera

  • Take pictures and videos

Other

  • Receive data from the internet

  • Control vibration

  • Pair with Bluetooth devices

  • Access Bluetooth settings

  • Full network access

  • Use accounts on the device

  • View network connections

  • Prevent the device from sleeping

Based on the access to your device (and your information), coupled with the design of Pokémon Go, the game should have no problem discerning and storing the following information (just for a start):

  • Where you are

  • Where you were

  • What route you took between those locations

  • When you were at each location

  • How long it took you to get between them

  • What you are looking at right now

  • What you were looking at in the past

  • What you look like

  • What files you have on your device and the entire contents of those files

I’m not going to tell people what they should think of all this.

I’m merely presenting the information. I recommend looking over the list of what data the game has access to, then going back to the beginning of this article and re-reading the history of the company.

Update: April 14th, 2020

In March of 2017, a little less than a year after this article was originally published, WikiLeaks released what they called “Vault 7." A series of documents that was purported to be a large leak of CIA related documents focused heavily on hacking and electronic surveillance.

Among those documents was a list of code names, descriptions, and various details around Android specific exploits.

Of the code names listed… almost a third of them were Pokémon names. Between that and the CIA investment (via In-Q-Tel) in Niantic (the company behind Pokémon Go)… I mean, that's just a heck of a lot more Pokémon than one would expect from the CIA.

One other little tidbit:

The original CEO of In-Q-Tel was a man named Gilman Louie. Louie received multiple awards for his work with In-Q-Tel - including CIA Agency Seal Medallions, Director's Award by the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and Director of National Intelligence Medallion – which included investing in Keyhole.

Louie now sits on the board of directors of Niantic.

In 2019 alone, Pokémon Go earned $1.4 Billion (USD). As of February 2019, the game had been downloaded over One Billion times.

Update: June 15th, 2024

After this article was originally published, back in 2016, I made a few radio guest appearances to talk about it -- my favorites being for Coast to Coast AM and Fade to Black.  Both of which remain available online.

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The show was originally titled "The Unexplained".  But the name was changed to "Breaking Mysterious"... and, later, "The Unexplained" title was used for an entirely different show, hosted by William Shatner.

 

Yup.  The video editors for the History Channel spelled my name wrong.  (It's with a Y!  A Y, I say!)

 

Sitting in a park.  Dropping truth bombs about surveillance on the show host, Jimmy Church.

 

Giving the show's host "The Look".
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... or simply don't know what we did, but it works.  It's "the algorithm".

 

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"Backend Developer"

 

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