Louie Gohmert has no idea how Google, or Gmail, works — nor is he able to wrap his head around it when an expert from Google explains it to him, repeatedly. Gohmert, a Tea Party Republican U.S. Congressman serving the state of Texas since 2005, apparently thinks that engineers at Google are reading everyone’s Gmail, then automagically serving them ads — and he’s interested to know if Google will do this for the government too.
“Doesn’t Google sell information acquired from emails to different vendors so that they can target certain individuals with their promotions?,” Rep. Gohmert asked Richard Salgado, Google’s attorney who was testifying this week before a House committee on the future of the internet, aka the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.
“Uh, no, we don’t sell email content,” Salgado responded to the confused Congressman. “We do have a system — similar to the system we have for scanning for spam and malware — that can identify what type of ads are most relevant to serve on email messages. It’s an automated process. There’s no human interaction. Certainly, the email is not sold to anybody or disclosed.”
“So how do these other vendors get our emails and think that we may be interested in the products they’re selling?,” Gohmert, still totally unsure of how computers work, asks.
“They don’t actually get your email,” the Google guy explains. “What they’re able to do is through our advertising business be able to identify keywords that they would like to trigger the display of one of their ads, but they don’t get information about who the user is or any… ”
“Well that brings me back,” Gohmert interrupts. “So they get information about keywords in our emails that they use to decide who to send promotions to, albeit automatically done. Correct?”
Oh good lord no.
Cory Doctorow, who is easily one of the most-respected people who’s been part of the World Wide Web practically from its inception, and is the co-editor of Boing Boing, calls Gohmert an “ignoramus,” but adds:
For the record, here’s how it works: Google parses the email for keywords, checks to see if anyone has bid to have text-ads displayed on emails with those words, and displays ads that match. Here’s how Gohmert thinks they work: A computer at Google reads your email, sends your identity to an advertiser, and asks it if it wants to display ads on your email.
Also for the record, Louie Gohmert thinks “illegal aliens” are coming to America, having babies here so they are automatically U.S. citizens, and then are trained to be terrorists. The words he uses to describe this phenomenon is “terror babies.”
Meanwhile, back to the hearing.
“Okay, so what would prevent the federal government from making a deal with Google, so they could also ‘Scroogle’ people, and say, ‘I want to know everyone who has ever used the term ‘Benghazi’ or ‘I want everyone who’s ever used… a certain term,” Gohmert says. “Would you discriminate against the government, or would you allow the government to know about all emails that included those words?”
I’ll let TechDirt’s Mike Masnick, who published the transcript of this interaction and unpacks it all exceptionally well, respond:
Okay, try not to hit your head on your desk after that exchange. First, he (perhaps accidentally) gets a statement more or less correct, that advertisers pay to have their ads show up, but immediately follows that up with something completely unrelated to that. First, he tosses in “Scroogled” — a term that Microsoft uses in its advertising against Gmail and in favor of Outlook.com — suggesting exactly where this “line” of questioning may have originated. Tip to Microsoft lobbyists, by the way: if you want to put Google on the hot seat, it might help to try a line of questioning that actually makes sense.
Then, the second part, you just have to say huh? The lawyer already explained, repeatedly, that Google doesn’t send any information back to the advertiser, and yet he’s trying to suggest that the government snooping through your email is the same thing… and Google somehow not giving the government that info is Google “discriminating” against the government? What? Really?
I recognize that there are no requirements on intelligence to get elected to Congress.
Gohmert is living proof.
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