Occasional reflections on Life, the World, and Mathematics

The Habsburg Google


It is often portrayed as an innovation of Google, to use convenient services — starting with the provision of free email — as a honeypot to attract masses of otherwise indifferent citizens to make their private information and correspondence available for lucrative snooping provision of services. But according to Adam Zamoyski’s history of counterrevolution in Europe between the revolutions of 1789 and 1848, the Austrian empire got there first. (The parallels to trends in the modern world are so numerous and extensive that the author coyly disclaims any effort to mark them out, starting from the overarching inclination of governments frightened by revolutionary terror to snoop on everything, and invent fantastic conspiracies — often instigating the plots themselves — to justify their spiralling tyranny, to small things, like an obsession with ciphers and politicised reinvention of archaic religious movements.)

The perennial Austrian foreign minister Count Metternich was obsessed with the need to keep an eye on the revolutionary conspiracies crisscrossing the continent, but had direct access only to letters passing through the Austrian postal service.

To ensure that as much European mail as possible continued to pass through Austrian domains, Metternich saw to it that the Habsburg postal service was cheaper and faster than the alternatives.

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