Ralph Fiennes interview: Logging Google searches like ‘getting inside people’s brains’

The Guardian's Alan Rusbridger interviews Ralph Fiennes

The Guardian’s Alan Rusbridger interviews Ralph Fiennes

Actor and director Ralph Fiennes has described as “profoundly frightening” the idea that internet companies such as Google and Facebook hold data on their users that can be used by governments.

Talking at Cannes Lions directly after a session featuring the COO of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg, the Oscar-winning star of Schindler’s List and The English Patient, said: “The idea that every photo you take and every email you send is logged is profoundly frightening – it is Big Brother.”

Fiennes was interviewed on stage by Alan Rusbridger, the editor-in-chief of The Guardian, the newspaper that broke the story about NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

“What’s my private sense of myself and does that matter?” wondered Fiennes. “Maybe it’s ok for my every email, text message or love letter to be logged. But every instinct in me finds it horrifying.”

Fiennes said he believes there is a human need in people for their own “sense of seclusion that is withheld from others. People need that choice,” he said.

People derive “spiritual succour” from keeping information private, he said.

Building on Fienne’s thinking on data privacy, Rusbridger suggested that logging Google searches is a step closer to knowing what goes on inside people’s heads.

“The Google search engine is an extension of our brain,” he suggested, since what people look for on the internet reflects their human motivations.

“The moment you create an interception point for a Google search, you’re pretty close to getting inside the brain,” he said.

The discussion came directly after a session with Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg, who revealed that the social network’s top priority was “accessing more people” to reach the entire world.

“I’m old enough to remember the time before you had to use a real identity online. But now with Facebook and social media, there’s a focus knowing people’s real identity online,” she said.

This has a “positive impact” on the world, Sandberg said.

She referred to images posted on Facebook of children living on a remote island in the Philippines who had to swim to get to school. After the images were posted, a campaign launched to raise the funds to buy the village a boat.

“We let millions of people die because we don’t know who they are. If we knew who they were, would we let bad things happen to them?” she said.

Facebook is currently used by 1.3 billion people globally, and the company’s founder Mark Zuckerberg is working on a campaign to give the world’s poorest people access to the internet through the project.


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