About this project
UPDATE: After being fully funded with six days left on the clock, I’ve upped the ante by expanding the project and setting a stretch goal of $20,000.
If we reach the new goal, I’ll be able to add a new chapter to the book, widening its scope beyond Silicon Valley to include a new chapter on Russia and the coming Internet Cold War.
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My name is Yasha Levine. I’m an author and award-winning investigative journalist with Pando Daily. I have reported from multiple continents, and have had my work published and featured in Wired, The Nation, Slate, Penthouse, The New York Observer and MSNBC.
My reporting has focused on Silicon Valley and its booming for-profit surveillance business.
I have exposed Google's deep ties to US intelligence and law enforcement, including its practice of recruiting top intelligence officials into executive positions; reported on the murky and criminal world of digital data brokers; investigated the detailed dossiers that big tech companies compile on all of us; and revealed how the Pentagon and other US Government agencies are heavily involved in funding grassroots privacy technology — including privacy tools endorsed by Edward Snowden.
My work has been praised by Julian Assange, and has been cited by activists, scholars, journalists, politicians and just about anyone in privacy.
Now I'm taking my reporting to the next level with a new book project...
Surveillance Valley — an in-depth investigation into the for-profit surveillance business that powers Silicon Valley, the deep ties between big tech giants and the military-industrial complex, and the increasing ways all this technology is being used to control our lives.
With your support, Surveillance Valley will...
- Help protect your privacy. Silicon Valley spends enormous resources to keep us ignorant and in the dark about the industry's invasive surveillance practices. We can't protect ourselves from what we don't know exists. This book will fill this information vacuum and expose what big tech companies — Google, Amazon, Facebook, eBay — want to keep hidden from you.
- Blow the lid off the Google-Military Surveillance Complex: It will investigate Google's close relationship with US National Security State — from the DARPA grants that funded Larry Page and Sergey Brin's PhD research to today's multidimensional collaboration between Google and the US military-intelligence apparatus: DoD spy satellites, CIA search contracts and its aggressive expansion into every cutting-edge military tech imaginable: battlefield robots, rocket technology, Google Glass for soldiers.
- Explore the Silicon Valley arms race: It will look at how other Silicon Valley companies — Amazon, eBay, Facebook, Microsoft — are in a race to dominate the lucrative military and intelligence contracting market, and show how they're explicitly aiming to become the Boeings, Lockheed-Martins and Booz Allen Hamiltons of the Internet Age.
- Detail exactly what Silicon Valley knows about us: Companies like Google and Facebook aggressively mine user data to compile complex and detailed dossiers, extracting personal information on our personalities, income, interests and friends. What information do these companies collect exactly? This book will find out.
- Examine how Internet giants make money off invading our privacy: It will investigate the inner workings of the Silicon Valley's for-profit surveillance business model. What do tech companies do with all the data they collect on us? Whom do they sell it to? How do they make money?
- Reveal how Silicon Valley polices our lives: There is a common misconception that no matter how much Silicon Valley companies spy on us, at least they don't have the power to arrest and jail us. Truth is, they can and do. This book will investigate how the most progressive Internet companies — including eBay, Facebook and Google — engage in pro-active policing. For example: eBay's massive private police alone has overseen thousands of arrests and convictions around the globe, and hands over complete criminal cases to government prosecutors "on a silver platter." It will also reveal how these same leading New Economy companies like eBay and others work hand-in-glove with agencies like the DEA, FBI, Homeland Security and others, helping them monitor and arrest those they suspect of committing crimes.
- Investigate the growing political power of Silicon Valley: The Internet was supposed to decentralize power and empower the grassroots — instead it birthed massive global corporations and helped concentrate wealth and power. The book will look at big tech's growing political and economic power, including Silicon Valley's deepening alliance with the Koch brothers think-tank network and the ultra-conservative wing of the Republican Party.
- Tell the real history of the Internet: In the popular telling, the story of the Internet is one of freewheeling creativity and plucky entrepreneurship. But there is another protagonist in this adventure: Uncle Sam. The book will explore the central role that the U.S. government and military played in driving the development of computer technology — from the Cold War, to WWII and all the way back to the 19th century.
- Expose U.S. Government's funding of anti-government privacy technology: The book will investigate and explain why the Pentagon — along with the State Department and other government agencies dedicated to expanding American power abroad — funds just about every open source Internet privacy technology in use today, including the Tor Project and other tools recommended by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Why is this book important?
From the beginning of the Internet revolution, we have been told that we are witnessing the dawn of a new and liberating technology — a technology that will decentralize power, topple entrenched bureaucracies and bring more democracy and equality to the world.
But the Internet did the exact opposite. It produced massive global corporations, helped concentrate wealth and power, and expanded the reach of the U.S. National Security State, creating an opaque world of total surveillance where corporations and intelligence agencies work hand in hand to track and profile us in the name of profit and security.
What happened? How did a technology that supposedly held so much democratic promise so quickly devolve into the dystopian reality we see today?
That is one of the big questions that Surveillance Valley will answer.
The book will be an extension of my reporting: an old-fashioned work of investigative non-fiction that combines my previous work with new exposés, analysis and historical research — all of it stitched together in a well-written, tightly argued and immaculately sourced page-turner that will change the way people think about the Internet.
More than just a book...part of something bigger.
I want Surveillance Valley to be more than just another book about surveillance. I want to connect my investigation of Silicon Valley to the bigger political and economic issue of our times: runaway corporate power.
We live in an age of extreme political disenfranchisement, extreme poverty and almost total control over public life by monopolistic corporate interests, a time when any kind of real democratic change seems all but impossible. It’s a bleak time, but it's also exciting — a chance to start broad social and politcal movement to remake society in ways that could transform our dystopian 21st century into something better, freer and open to possibilities
The Internet, and the greater global telecommunication infrastructure, is a central part of this larger struggle. And that makes understanding the Internet — its history, its politics, its power, where it was and where it's going — so crucial. It's an important discussion for us to have, but it's a discussion that's not being heard nearly enough.
I want Surveillance Valley to fill this void.
- I have reported extensively on Surveillance Valley for Pando Daily, a S.F.-based news magazine focused on covering the politics and power of big tech.
- My work has been very effective — getting the attention of activists, journalists, politicians and just about anyone interested interested in privacy. My investigations have been praised by Julian Assange and Al Gore, and have been used by watchdogs like Public Citizen.
- I'm independent. A book going after some of the most powerful corporations in the world — Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple — needs as much independence as possible, free of advertiser or investor pressure.
- After emigrating from the Soviet Union, I grew up in San Francisco — the beating heart of the Internet revolution. I was there for the dot-com boom and bust, briefly worked at a doomed e-commerce startup in the early 2000s and even went halfway to finishing my Computer Science degree in UC Berkeley. I can code, have a good grasp of the underlying workings of technology and have an abundance of contacts in the tech world. Combined with my extensive professional investigative reporting experience, all of this gives me a very strong foundation to cover the opaque and highly abstract world of tech.
- $10,000 to write the book: This will go to covering the costs of writing Surveillance Valley, including travel, research and other related expenses. It is the bare minimum I’ll need to finish a work of this scope.
- $5,000 for book production expenses: This will go into hiring a professional editor and proofreaders, getting legal advice, commissioning cover art and paying for promotion.
- Note: The final payout will be about 10 percent lower, which is what Kickstarter collects in fees.
Risks and challenges
The main risk is that the book will take longer to research, write and publish. But I am confident that I'll be able to meet the deadline.
A huge thank you to Evgenia Kovda for shooting the video.
Illustrations: "Google-CIA" and "Surveillance Valley" graphics are by Brad Jonas (@bradtjonas). "Creepy Google Glass" image by Pete Toms.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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