walkitout (walkitout) wrote,
walkitout
walkitout

Boo! The Google is Going to Get You!

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/01/use-google-time-to-get-real-about-protecting-your-digital-self/251981/

Recently,

http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/news/2012/01/google-doubles-plus-membership-with-brute-force-signup-process.ars

Page said Google Plus had a lot of daily users. The numbers looked a bit odd to me, but I didn't really care that much. The Ars Technica coverage was good though; it's worth reading.

My friend A. asked recently a question about making it possible for someone to send her an email from a web page, but without making her personal email public. I sent her some suggestions for setting up forwarding -- they ultimately went with a web form instead, which makes sense -- including one involving a google mail account which she said she avoided google for privacy reasons.

I have a gmail account. I even consciously set up a google plus account, mostly because a bunch of the genealogy bloggers were talking about it and I figured I should at least go eavesdrop a bit (was it worth it? Well, what do _you_ think? You're probably right.). The gmail account is my emergency-backup-I-never-use-it email account. I barely check into FB much less G+, now that I do all my gaming on mobile devices. I do use google docs (because I hate hate hate hate hate, did I mention hate? having to do backups, but I'd prefer not to lose things I care enough about to write down in an organized fashion but which are not blog material). But most of what goes into the google docs is ultimately intended for public distribution, so again, not too concerned about privacy issues.

Back to the Atlantic coverage, which triggered this screed:

"Search, browser, email. These are the most essential tools of an Internet-connected life, and for many of us, Google offers the best of breed."

"Best of breed?" Free, sure. And I do know people who think it is the pinnacle of humor to say that the best beer is free beer. But _best of breed_? Are there Chrome-fans who really think it's better than Firefox?

"Google is compiling its user data across all of its products, resulting in an omniscient, informed, one-true profile of you"

Omniscient? My primary mail is through an ISP which doesn't have a significant national presence and is located across the country from me. I use Firefox. I blog on LJ. Google has my docs and could pay attention to what I search on, and if they can come up with some coherent, useful sense of me as a person, I hope they'll tell me.

Because I sure couldn't. And the quality of recommendations that come from other sources that know a whole helluva lot more about me isn't good enough to lead me to worry about how much they know about me.

"All antitrust concerns aside, the idea that Google is introducing social filters to organize the world's information is concerning to some, and makes Eli Pariser's warnings look eerily prescient."

No. They aren't eerily prescient. They're a paranoid fantasy. When I was born, it was virtually _impossible_ to find out why someone in another part of the country thought and felt the way they did about highly polarizing issues of the day. National news was an hour or so a day on TV. Newspapers were highly regional at _best_ and often far more myopic than that. All of it was filtered through white, middle-aged, middle class _men_, most of them smokers, very few of them having any real contact with anyone substantially different from them. That was Normal. Today, if I want to know what someone somewhere else thinks and feels about something I care about, it's a google search away. And I know of no way to search on a hot button topic that is likely -- never mind guaranteed -- to show me points of view largely in agreement with my own.

"If I'm more aware of my data relationship to Google, I might think twice about entering a search term as innocuous as "incontinence" or as damning as "divorce lawyer.""

Anyone who thinks googling "divorce lawyer" is damning doesn't have a problem with google. The problem they have is much, much more serious. I've been divorced once (prior to google's existence). I've paid for someone else to get a divorce, and googled the firm to make sure they were a reasonable choice. And I've researched divorce lawyers for other people as well as looking up divorce lawyers as part of curiosity sparked by a questions that came up as a result of news coverage. Divorce is not damning. Divorce lawyers are actually not awful people as a general rule -- the ones I've interacted with have generally been diligent, personable people (distinctly unlike lawyers who do other things like estate work or paperwork for small businesses and stick a toe into a divorce to help out a client from another area).

I am in no way suggesting that people shouldn't have private lives, or should live as if the details of their lives would appear on gawker tomorrow. I'm sure no one really wants to know about the problems I have with calluses on my heels or that I pick my nose quite vigorously on occasion, much less anything that courtesy would require me to label this entry NSFW if I started writing about it.

I would be _tremendously_ embarrassed by having certain aspects of my life shared with all and sundry: it would make me feel very awkward and self-conscious. But I wouldn't be ashamed -- I wouldn't feel like I'd done something wrong.

Whatever google is doing with our data doesn't seem to me likely to trigger any embarrassment on my part, as long as the dipshits who have access to all the data for debugging purposes limit their amusement to non-public fora. Google isn't proposing to publicize whatever they think they know about me.

"Google notes that they don't share our data externally except in rare circumstances of court orders. But we know that Google's complying with 94 percent of those requests to date."

That's more interesting. N.B.: don't put your plans for committing a crime up in google docs, I guess, and don't coordinate your criminal activity via gmail. If you're hiding assets, ditto.

The author goes on to say she's going to switch back to Firefox (as well she should! Goddess what was she thinking), but I personally think she really missed out on an opportunity to explore the google-China connection. She's clearly got the right background for that discussion -- and, equally, is not in a safe place to explore it. From her bio at the top:

"Sara Marie Watson is a writer living in Chongqing, China, whose work focuses on issues related to personal data and the Internet."

Maybe when she's not living in China, she'll have something more interesting to say about the data risks associated with relying on google.

In the mean time, I really do not understand all the paranoia about google. I'm a pretty boring person, and there are hundreds of millions of similarly boring people out there using similar services. The service could know absolutely everything about me and no one would care.

Celebrities might want to stay alert, however.
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