(Written for Kindle Magazine, December 2013)
By Saswat Pattanayak
As privatized healthcare gets to be seen more as a consensus than a contested issue, Google is investing in the sector that promises to fetch maximum return in coming decades. And unlike the inevitable controversies associated with privacy searches, there are least amount of resistance to its foray into such a “noble” domain. Just around the time when capitalism’s reputation has reached the lowest ebb, Calico Project aims to put the kindest human face yet on this vicious system.
Perhaps no other futuristic idea has generated as much enthusiasm as Calico. And why not? A promise at least to cure illnesses, if not to enhance longevity while at that, is just as good as it gets. Being part of the Google X Lab, this project is deliberately mysterious, and very little, if not nothing is really known about it. But it is abuzz with excitements. And Time Magazine’s speculation regarding its death-defying capabilities has lent the kind of credibilities to Calico that were once reserved for pathbreaking inventions such as telephone, airplane or computer.
This growing fascination with Calico probably should leave us with far profounder questions – of both idealist and materialist nature. Should Google solve death? Does longer life equal to greater joy? Need we strive for quantity over quality? Are we not to set healthcare priorities in a world steeped in inaccessibilities for the disabled, malnourished and the poor? How much more can we trust private pharmaceuticals to take care of public health? Can making healthcare free and accessible for everyone in the planet, a goal the Calico Project can dare to set?
At the same time, unfortunately what makes these especially redundant questions is the ways capitalism functions, so as to enable the monopolists to dictate the ruling questions of the times, howsoever utopian they appear to be. In fact, only by pretending to solve attractive questions, does capitalism become acceptable, at the first place. As one of its foremost champions today, Google has proposed to save humanity from death and illness, at the very time when its own health was dwindling to a trickle.
Mired with numerous scandals involving illegal activities pertaining to violations of privacy rights, to profiting from installing unauthorized cookies in users’ browsers, to using information of its users for commercial gains without consent, Google is an empire founded on deceit and manipulations. Indeed, Google has always preferred to settle cases related to its ad spying behaviors (this year by paying $17 million fine and last year $22 million for the same crime). This is precisely because by paying such meagre penalties, it stands to gain more – profit wise – than it would if it stopped illegal spying. So whereas Google will make $47 billion dollars this year from advertising through spying (which is now an integrated feature of Google Plus), it will pay a tiny fine that equals to only three-hour worth of its revenues.
It should appear as highly suspect that a parasitical corporation that feeds off innocent data sharing of its users can be entrusted with, literally, the well-being of humanity. And yet, instead of getting shocked at such a scenario, the world media is full of adulations for Google, because while corporations act as individuals when it comes to paying taxes, they get mystified while committing crimes. When in 2011, FTC (Federal Trade Commission) had fined Google over Google Buzz privacy concerns, as the outcome, it conveniently shut down the project. In real life, an individual may have to face lifetime imprisonment for a fraction of the crimes committed by Google.
Instead of jail terms, the “innovators” were found dining with the American president – who to his credit has been using NSA for the very purposes anyway. Instead of penalizing the companies that acquire bright initiatives only to shut them down once it makes little commercial sense, capitalism rewards big monopolists by entrusting with them the credibility to continue with similar onslaughts.
Google has often thrived on hypes – be it the “invitation codes” to open email accounts or the mystery labs that not even its own employees have seen, there is a pattern to its attracting initial investments with scant regard to their long-term viabilities. Whether Calico survives to serve long-term or temporarily profit the bosses at Google depends on the wisdom of its head, Arthur Levinson who chairs Genentech and is a director of its owner Roche, which has numerous dubious distinctions of breaking antitrust laws and engaging in price fixing to eventually emerge as one of the largest entities worldwide, in the privatized healthcare industry.
It remains to be seen if Google, Apple, Genentech and Roche shall use this hype as an opportunity to invest in researches that address roots of healthcare issues, or use it as a humanizing veil to cover-up the crimes of capitalism while collaborating with nefarious motives that inform the pervasiveness of greedy pharmaceutical corporations and privacy encroachment giants.