Big Brother Google

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?

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11 thoughts on “Big Brother Google”

  1. I’ve been having the SAME thoughts lately! Google getting to know too much, I should leave now, etc etc. But it’s SO darned convenient having so much integrated. But I’ll break free, I know I will.

  2. In theory you are right BUT, in my opinion what exactly is there to worry about?? Its obvious that google is using the information but its just advertising after all. I think I’ll keep on using the amazing and free services and enjoy the benefits.

  3. You are right to worry. But i would imagine that face recognition would have to have a user agreement. Don’t agree, and if some services are then out of bounds, leave.
    I don’t use Picassa anymore (But still have some photo’s there at this time), I now use SmugMug. I didn’t take Google+ or Gmail because it uses Picassa. Google search is probably the best but it’s not alone, use another one.
    But it’s darned difficult to get rid entirely. Unfortunately it’s so good at what it does.

    I’ve never used Farcebook either. Now that’s a scary network. I don’t think users know half of what is happening. I’m set up on Blogger now and can’t be bothered starting another, with say wordpress or similar. bla bla bla….

  4. Indeed, Robin. Someone once said, if you’re not paying then you’re the product. I suspect if lots of people moved to a non google service, then google would just buy it and you’d be back to square one. Google goes where the money is, which is where the users are. The google services are just tools and like any tool, one must learn to use it fully, including how to keep private information private. It’s not just google that leaks info though. I started getting emails from a well known outdoor magazine ex-editor telling me I’d been subscribed to a new online magazine for Scottish walks that I’d never heard of. He’d obviously hijacked my current magazine subscription info and decided I’d like to be subscribed to his new venture. He never replied to my email complaining about it so I unsubscribed.

    1. What makes Google potentially scary is the recent change in privacy policy that allows it to keep information forever and to integrate it across all its services. I’ve got nothing to hide but I’m not sure I want Google tracking me everywhere and “helpfully” suggesting what I might buy. Amazon is irritating enough with a constant barrage of emails suggesting that you might buy something that you looked at months ago. I like the integration of Google but not its changed attitude to privacy. Incidentally you can, in theory, prevent it from recording your searches, but do we really know that it does what it says it does?

  5. I don’t use Facebook or Twitter mainly because of the information they may allow others to garner about me. I use a few google products but I try to apply, as far as is possible or practical, the constraint I was taught many years ago whilst in training. “Never write anything in a memo or file note that you would not wish the client to read”. Try to do this in all things that pass over the internet.

    Not sure it does much good but it stops me getting more paranoid.

  6. Do you really think they haven’t been doing it already? They’re just admitting it now for CYA purposes. Maybe I’m a bit of a conspiracy theorist or maybe it’s just my lengthy experience in the IT field, but I’d bet the data logging, archiving, etc, etc. has been going on for decades by more sources than anyone would care to admit.

  7. Since I got an Android phone Google has taken over my life!!!!

    Well maybe not but it is creeping in everywhere. That said, it was always my preferred search engine. it doesn’t seem to invade your browser like Ask does without asking. It’s Earth and Maps are easy to use and pretty peerless for content and all the other bolt ons are just so useful, particularly the syncing of accounts and diaries.

    Is the paranoia any different to that shown to MS and its Bond villain status? Why do we buck against big and powerful, shun Berghaus for PHD?

    I’m sort of using Chrome but it is rubbish for a lot of sites with limited functionality so am back on Firefox. I use Flickr for pics and will stay with Facebook til my kids migrate elsewhere. In fact the only downside with Flickr is it’s Yahoo based and takes an extra click or two to get into with the G word. But if Google were to fall wouldn’t some other monolith just hove into view? The tinterweb doesn’t seem to be a place for cottage industry.

    Maybe we need a version of Linkdin for walkers? 😉

  8. It’s plain to see that this has been the trend that these Mega Corps are taking, and it’s not just Google. But Google, for me is the big one. I’ve offered too much of my online presence to them on a plate. I’ve made some half hearted attempts to break free, but need to try again. Their latest, browser snooping by bypassing IE security say it all really.

    On a related note: When Bruce Schneier talks, people generally listen:

    http://arstechnica.com/business/news/2012/02/schneier-gov-big-data-pose-bigger-net-threat-than-criminals.ars

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