Friend or Foe?: Google

By Sven Larsen (@zemoga)

Google, once seen as the great beneficent alternative to more suspiciously viewed companies like Microsoft. Google, which has itself become a lot more like the new Evil Empire, in the last couple of years. A quick Google (more about this verb later…) will find you articles with titles like “Getting Free of Googles Grip and “The Top Five Google Alternatives and Why You Should Use Them and “Ungoogled.

Why has Google become the company that everybody loves to hate? What nefarious deeds have been done? What stealthy evils are being imposed upon the unwitting hundreds of millions who use Google products every day?

Well, a bit of bad public relations savvy hasnt helped things. In late 2009, CEO Eric Schmidt told a reporter these famous words:

“If you have something that you dont want anyone to know,
maybe you shouldnt be doing it in the first place.

These are not exactly words that would stoke feelings of safety and comfort into the hearts of your privacy-concerned customers.

But there are more legitimate reasons, as well as bad interview quotes. In the beginning of this year, Google Buzz was released, a FriendFeed-type aggregator of social activity. The problem was, when you signed up, you were automatically given a list of your most frequent contacts – and that list was automatically available to anyone who saw your profile. The audience for Google Buzz was not pleased to learn that this new service would automatically tell anyone who was curious who the people were that they chatted and emailed with the most. The upheaval was such that, a week later, fixes were already in place that changed most of the concerns. But the damage had been done.

Moreover, though, Google is really taking over a lot of peoples online experiences. Browsing, searching, email, watching videos, getting maps, chatting, blogging, drawing in 3D, RSS reading, blocking ads (ironically enough), getting news, managing your calendar, sharing pictures… there are literally hundreds of Google products.

What it comes down to is, when you allow one company access to see everything you do, they have the ability to collect a lot – a very, very lot – of information about you. What you do, where you are, where youve been, what youre interested in – just about any type of information that could help an advertiser understand how to market to you better.

So IS Google the Evil Empire? Well, we havent seen any new giant planets aiming at Alderan lately. But its a very big corporation with a lot of services that all collect information on you. The way they make money is selling ads, and the way they get paid is by being able to sell advertisers the most specific information possible.

Whether thats evil, or whether thats capitalism (or both) is a matter of discussion. But the lesson to take away from all this is awareness. Understand the information youre putting out there, and make sure youre comfortable with the agreement youre making and the information youre giving in exchange for these free services.




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