Hey, Google - Can You Be A Bit Less, You Know, Orwellian?
Google knows everything about you - or at least stuff that you wouldn't expect it to know. Whether you use services provided by the search giant or not, the fact is that things are getting a little out of hand. So I wrote the once exciting tech start-up a letter expressing my concerns...
Oh Google, how you’ve grown!
I remember you when you were that little kid with a brief cameo on the Yahoo! home page, telling me that you were providing search results for the portal back in the early days of the web. I was so proud when you took your first steps as a baby search engine learning to stand on your own two feet, and watched with intrigue as you launched your first service, AdWords.
The day you improved communications with others with the launch of Gmail was one to remember. So was the day you learned how to write your thoughts down in a web log, and found it so useful that you purchased the Blogger platform.
You’ve done so much in just a few years, graduated from being just another startup to become a giant of the dotcom era. Launching your first phone was another milestone, and it seems like you just can’t stop impressing people with your unique blend of useful services for computer users.
March of the Google
We all remember being impressed by you Google, with your helpfulness and good manners. Leading your users to the news that they want rather than the irrelevant fluff that they would rather avoid is a much-respected service that is largely unparalleled, while giving people the chance to compare prices online for specific items is also great.
In many other ways you’ve saved money for people too, such as providing Gmail as a professional-standard alternative to Microsoft’s Outlook email software, and even challenging the dominance of Microsoft Office with a set of your own excellent web-based applications. You, Google, made cloud computing something that people could finally believe in rather than look forward to, and for this you should be congratulated.
Your reminders of important events around the world thanks to artistic illuminations on your homepage are also particularly admired and appreciated, as is your image search tool. In fact, pretty much everything about you is wonderful, to the newcomer.
But some things have gone too far, don’t you think?
Growing Up With Google
We’re not strangers, Google. I know you from way back, and can remember your occasional mistakes. Your Chromium operating system hasn’t exactly set the world alight, while Google Latitude was a privacy-breaching nightmare, opening mobile phones to GPS stalking by lunatics, nosey employers and jealous lovers.
And then there is Android. Not a mistake as such, but an attempt to stretch your wings a little further than expected that has since incurred the wrath of your former friend Apple. What is doubly galling is that you had the opportunity to get one over on Apple by not replicating their "harmless" saving of geo-location information on mobile phones. Rather than put in place some checks and balances or sock one to the big boys by appearing relevant and in tune with the concerns of privacy campaigners, you've made life easier for criminals and threats to society, all in the name of profit margins.
More recently, of course, you’ve begin seeding the front page of your search results with your own services. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but people use you to search the entire web, not just YouTube. They want to know more about the world, not less, and by controlling search with such an iron fist, you're preventing the dissemination of free knowledge and turning the Internet back into the static library it was before you came along.
Making Money, Cutting Throats
I’m sad to say that your business interests have disappointed me, Google. While investing in startups and brave new ideas is to be applauded, the way in which you have subverted Android from a brave new mobile OS into a means of running all manner of Google-centric apps to further spread your tentacles and extend your reach was a terrible shame, although ultimately an early warning of what was to come.
Then there is the matter or AdWords and AdSense and their increasing strength in the online advertising space. I think it is fair to say that you’re the market leader in this sector, so why go too far and start bullying the remaining competition with your fangled and pointless new “secure search" tool? Who are you securing search from, exactly? Webmasters that want to improve the relevancy of their website to users?
I’ll tell you something else, Google. I don’t like being stalked. So when I use you to search the web for a particular product and decide it is too expensive, it doesn’t matter how many unrelated websites I then subsequently visit, the product will still be too expensive. I don’t need you to remind me about it! If I already bought the thing, you are committing the worse sin of wasting your client's money bombarding me with attempts to buy a second. The lauded advantage of individually targeted Internet advertising, for which you are so willing to tear through our expectations of privacy, is actually reduced to being less effective than showing purely random ads.
While we’re on the subject of you being a bit dated sometimes, your cookies are deleted at a ridiculous age. Two years on a rolling basis?! Amazon cookies last 24 hours; this is worth thinking about.
It's Like You're Everywhere
I used to love you, Google, like a child loves his younger brother. But things have changed. You’ve changed. You’re no longer loveable, and I’m not even certain you’re innovative anymore, not in the way people want you to be, certainly.
Perhaps you weren’t really born the way we think you were. Where did you get this need for omniscience about me and everyone else online? After all, your growth from cute and exciting little brother into a domineering, Orwellian Big Brother can only be described as frightening, especially when you once held to the motto “don’t be evil." I know I'm not alone in wishing that your aims for future domination of the search industry didn't include using your mathematical models to predict what I'm going to do next.
But planning a "Minority Report"-style future of predictive advertizing and a sideline in marketing this data that you can put as high a price on as you like is... astounding. We gave you this information in good faith, believing that you would help make life online easier.
Instead, our personal data is there, waiting for you to find new ways to cash in on us, your users. The people who felt you to be one of the Internet's most trusted brands, and really thought you weren't being evil.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons/VolatileChemical
25 Surprising Things That Google Knows About You, http://www.criminaljusticeusa.com/blog/2009/25-surprising-things-that-google-knows-about-you/
Gaudin, Sharon. "Privacy group calls Google Latitude a 'danger' to security," http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9127440/Privacy_group_calls_Google_Latitude_a_danger_to_security
Rogers, Garrett. "Google now expires cookies after 2 years, not 31," http://www.zdnet.com/blog/google/google-now-expires-cookies-after-2-years-not-31/661
Vaughan-Nichols, Steven J. "Big Apple, Big Google, Big Brother," http://www.zdnet.com/blog/networking/big-apple-big-google-big-brother/989
Schmidt offers Google's most chilling Big Brother scenario yet, http://blogs.computerworld.com/16759/schmidt_offers_googles_most_chilling_big_brother_scenario_yet
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