Who hasn’t been stumped with a question, quickly banged in a Google search query, and received an answer in a split second? It’s a modern wonder. How did we ever live without it?
Google’s official mission statement, “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful,” when coupled with their college age motto of “do no evil,” is at its face an absolutely amazing and admirable goal. But has Google gone too far?
Who could have guessed, however, that “the world’s information” would grow to include our own personal whereabouts as we move through our day, our photos, and our friends’ names?
Who would have guessed it would include who we chat with and, by remembering our search requests, the sorts of things we’re interested in?
The word’s information now includes personal data on nearly every internet user on the planet.
And soon, Google’s databases will include very personal sensor data from wearable computers and devices installed in our homes.
Is this too much power? Is this too intrusive? And now that we know government has tapped into the GOOG’s treasure trove of data to spy on some of us, should we be worried?
Eric Schmidt, ex-Google CEO and current chairman, scares the heck out of people when he says, “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place” and “Just remember, when you post something, the computers remember forever.” So should we be worried? Absolutely!
The truth is, absolutely everything someone types into the internet, on a phone, or on a laptop is recorded somewhere by some computer.
Most of it is thrown away, never to be seen by a human, but some is reused by very smart software designed to offer you ads or to predict the next thing you may want or where you may be going. And sometimes, it’s used by government to solve crimes or to find the bad guys or to save lives.
This feels like a very slippery slope. We can’t live a modern life without the internet, but everything we type into it is remembered forever, so the old-fashioned notion of privacy is gone!
And given that everything we do is recorded, and that battle has already been lost, perhaps it’s not the gathering of data that’s the problem, but what it’s used for.
So is Google really tracking you? Does it care where you’ve been?
“Let me be very clear that Google is not tracking you … it’s not doing all these things,” Schmidt said. “Does everyone get that we’re not doing this?” The question is do we trust Schmidt and his company to only use the data for the good and to do no evil?
The answer is most of us do not trust Google, and trust the NSA even less, so some take the trouble to only use incognito mode.
They don’t use Facebook and do host their own email servers, and they use VPNs or TOR to try and hide their identity and online activity.
But the majority just shrug their shoulders and sigh. The internet is just too useful, and our lives are too boring, to be bothered trying to hide from Google’s massive data vacuum cleaner.
Evil? Maybe. Creepy? Definitely. But it’s probably too late to do anything about it.