I wrote this blog entry back in 2006, explaining why the Google logo is the “Mark of the Beast”. Since then, things have gotten remarkably worse. Google just doesn’t store your email anymore. Google used to just store your email and your Google IM chat log files. And not just the stuff *you* think you’re keeping. But the stuff you thought you deleted – that’s still there too!
Google has launched several new services. First, now that you have a gmail account, it stores all of your web searches. FOREVER. Even if you don’t log in, it will associate web searches with you because it comes from an IP address you used previously. We’ll get into why that’s a really bad idea for you later. Right now, we’re focused on what all Google is collecting on you. And keeping. And combining.
If you use the Google toolbar or Google’s Chrome browser, it stores your entire browsing history. FOREVER. Now Google has launched other products. If you use Google Calendar, Google knows about your doctor’s appointment on the 24th at noon. If you use a Google docs spreadsheet to track your tax information, you just gave Google access to your income tax data. If you use Google groups, Google has a good idea what your hobbies are. Google reader knows which RSS feeds you’ve subscribed too. Google alerts let Google know what information you find to be critical. Google Finance lets Google know where your money is. Now with Google Voice, Google knows who’s calling and texting you and they are doing a text conversion on the voice mails so that they can mine this stream of data as well. And with Google Wave, they can combine these services into one bundle. If that’s not creepy enough, part of Google Maps for your cell phone includes this thing called Google Latitude. It gives your actual real time physical location. Google *can* find you. And it keeps and tracks this data, like everything else Google does, FOREVER. Do you use Google Checkout? Google knows what you’ve been buying. And where it’s been sent to.
And this isn’t just limited to Google branded products. Plenty of other things out there are owned by Google. If you blog on Blogger, Google knows it and uses the things you blog about to increase their ability to see into your life. If you use Knol, Google knows what you’re looking up and what information you’re writing. If you use Orkut, Google knows who your friends are. If you use Picasa, they have access to your photos and the comments that are made on them. Same goes for posting video on YouTube, another Google product.
Ah, but wait a moment you say. Google’s motto is “Do no evil”. That might have been the case when it was 2 guys and a bunch of other nerds running a small private company. Now, though, its a publicly held company. They have a board of directors and share holders that they’re responsible to. Aside from my persistent fears of a police state thanks to the easy, warrant-less access to these records, its darn scary to have one company holding that much data on you. Unlike the credit bureaus, they don’t have to show you what they have. They don’t have to let you correct it. And they can sell it to anyone they want.
Let’s say for a moment that the impossible happens, as it almost always does. Let’s pretend that Google goes out of business. All that data is a huge asset. It would likely be sold at auction to the highest bidder(s). How comfortable would you be with having the IRS have all the data that Google’s been keeping on you? Let’s say it gets sold to someone like PublicData.com. How comfortable would you be with your boss having it? What about your wife? My wife’s not a problem, you say. Let’s pretend for a moment you’re a middle aged guy with a mistress. You’ve been purchasing condoms. Still want your boss to know? Your wife? What about your preacher? Or your neighbor? What about the hiring manager at the job you’re trying to get?
And don’t think it won’t happen. To pretend otherwise is flatly naive. The first time your right to privacy comes up against the Board of Director’s right to a bonus or the shareholder’s right to a dividend, guess who’s going to loose? And at that point, it will already be much too late. You, the consumer of a “free” service, won’t have much of a legal leg to stand on. And they will already have released your data. Once the genie is out of the bottle, it doesn’t get put back in.