Google has become an indispensable part of Internet life for many, including myself. Its search engine is without peer. Gmail has become the email client of choice enabling me to access emails when and where I want and giving me security of storage. Its spam filter is excellent. Picasa enables me to share my photos. It also helps me manage and edit them as well as putting together slide shows. YouTube helps me share videos and slide shows.
Google Reader keeps me up to date with a myriad of blogs. Google docs gives me online storage. Google earth helps me to reconnoiter and plan trips. Google maps and Streetview help me find where I’m going and to visualise unfamiliar places. I’ve used Google cart to buy stuff as well. Google has probably gathered a staggering amount of data on me. As yet I don’t use Chrome but I’m tempted given the recent unreliability of Firefox.
However, I must confess I have a growing unease about Google. Its growing ability to integrate the data it gathers on me with seemingly little restraint or constraint, I find worrying. What safeguards do I have that it might not be misused? Precious few as far as I can see. Both Google and Facebook appear to follow the path of “if its not prohibited, we’ll do it”, rather than taking a step back and looking at the broader picture of ethics and social desirability. One really creepy thing is the intention to use face recognition technology to recognise you from any photos across the web.
I am wondering whether I really want Google to know so much about me, even if, in theory, it is anonymous. How can I be sure that information won’t be misused or hijacked? I’m giving serious consideration to de-Googlising my life. For some emails I’ve gone back to my service provider’s email address. I know it’s not totally private, but at least it’s not being data mined. I’m wondering whether to use services other than Picasa or YouTube. Perhaps I should ditch Reader as well. If I use a patchwork of providers, then integrating the data to build a picture of me becomes much more difficult.
I’ve not succumbed to Facebook because I find their attitude to privacy even worse. It’s even making me a bit cautious about blogging (fortunately, I’m not on Blogger!). Are we sleepwalking into a world of perpetual surveillance and tracking? With mobile phones our service providers track our whereabouts and usage. Android and iOS feed back data. It seems our only defence might be to disintegrate our lives. In some ways that’s a shame as the integration of Google is one of its attractions. Am I being paranoid?