Google’s public service company acquired a Russian troll campaign (for an ‘experiment’)

Alphabet’s ‘public service’ subsidiary conducted a research experiment on misinformation campaigns, and what they found was fascinating. But did they go too far?

The company’s name is Jigsaw, and they’re owned by Google’s parent company, Alphabet. 

Labeled as a “public service” company, Jigsaw bought and observed a commercial social media trolling service in Russia last year, Wired reports. 

There were some interesting insights

Through a website Jigsaw created called “Down With Stalin,” Jigsaw conducted forums that centered on the age-old Russian debate over whether Joseph Stalin was a national hero or global disgrace.

The company then hired an SEO-based troll farm to run a disinformation campaign against the “Down With Stalin” website, using a miniscule amount of resources and a menial amount of cash.

While deliberately small, the experiment illustrated how low the barrier to entry for organized disinformation online has become — for only a few hundred dollars, campaigns like this are now accessible to government agencies, tech companies, hell, even the latte-drinker working on his or her screenplay at a Starbucks next to you. 

Is Jigsaw a public service? Or a Google service?

Chiefed by Jared Cohen, a Rhodes scholar and former State Department policy wonk, the Alphabet subsidiary defined itself back in 2017 as an incubator that designs “tools to make the world safer [from cyberattacks].”

The model plays the philanthropic card, but it’s more of a hybrid (phil-anthropomorphic shall we say). Jigsaw still operates as a business, no different than any other supergroup brought to you by Alphabet.

In Jigsaw’s case it acts as the security team for Google and it’s myriad other businesses like Android, Gmail, and YouTube.

But did the Google Gestapo’s latest experiment go too far? 

Jigsaw’s critics believe the company is interfering in Russian affairs (something the US claims to be against). At this point, many worry that experiments like Jigsaw’s latest could be fighting fire with fire.

Other critics argue that they’re fine with experimentation, but take issue with the secrecy surrounding it until now — on the other hand, how do you successfully conduct a secret experiment with full transparency?

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