For the last several years I have been on a quest—see my new book, Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet—to visit the actual, physical Internet: its wires, buildings, and places. We tend to think of infrastructure like this—when we bother to think of it at all—as top secret and obscured, the kinds of places listed in WikiLeaks dumps, protected by rent-a-cops, and generally inscrutable. All those things are undoubtedly true.
Yet the Internet I visited was also a surprisingly friendly place, populated by smart, welcoming people, proud of what they do and eager to tell me about it. Inevitably, when I arrived at some unmarked building crucial to the network’s functioning, the same thing happened: the veil of secrecy didn’t descend, but lifted. My guides happily led me around, and nearly always spent extra time to make sure I understood what I was looking at. This happened dozens of times, all over the world. The cumulative message was clear: It’s my Internet, but it’s your Internet too. You can know how it works. You should know how it works.
The one exception to that openness was Google—and the strange hypocrisy of that is something I’ve yet to get over. This is the company you likely entrust with your personal correspondence, your most intimate instant messages, and a full accounting of your curiosity (going back years). But Google does not trust you.
And it’s not that they don’t trust you to keep a secret, as you trust them, but rather they don’t trust you to understand. Their stance is the corporate equivalent of a 1950s-era gynecologist who believes women can’t comprehend what’s being done to their own bodies. “Don’t worry about a thing” Google purrs. “We’ll take care of you.”