It knows everything about you.
Not even the U.S. government has compiled as much information about you as Google. Google knows this, of course, which is one reason why it has made the phrase “Don’t be Evil” its motto. It understands the awesome power it holds and how that data could be used for odious ends. I don’t believe that founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page are evil – or have evil intent. But they are no longer in charge of Google – their stockholders are. And some day Sergey and Larry won’t be around – but Google’s massive databases will be.
The question isn’t if Google is evil, but whether this amount of personal data should be in the hands of a private company. Any private company. Should it be against the law for Google to save and archive all of it? That’s the real question. Just look at the information they now own.
Google saves your every search
The Google search engine, which is the gatekeeper to about two-thirds of every internet search, has saved each and every search you and everyone else has ever conducted through its portal. It doesn’t have it by your name – but by your IP address. It knows your favorite web sites. It knows what you like and dislike. It knows if you’ve done research on depression or suicide. It knows every search you have conducted on medical conditions and diseases. It knows if you are looking for a job – and probably if you’ve been laid-off. It knows your vices (no matter how many times you clean out your cookies and cache). It knows your politics. Your religion.
And all of it is saved and owned by Google.
How powerful is Google and search? In January, one of its programmers made an error that caused every site on the internet to be flagged as dangerous malware. The mistake was caught and fixed within minutes. But just think of the power Google has in directing traffic. What if it decided to quietly prevent traffic from politicians or causes it disagreed with? Would anyone even know?
Google reads your email
There’s an old saying: “Two is company, but three is a crowd.” This is how you should think of Google’s email service, Gmail, which is used by more than 100 million people. The email content you are sharing with another party – whether it is your mother, your boyfriend or your lawyer is being read by Google. It scans the content for keywords in order to serve you targeted ads. But make no mistake – the content of your emails is being reviewed, then saved, and then archived by Gmail – even if you delete the email. Think about what your personal correspondence could mean in the hands of the government? Your wife? Your company? Your family?
John Perry Barlow said this about the government, but it could equally apply to Google: “Relying on the government to protect your privacy is like asking a Peeping Tom to install your window blinds.”
Google listens to your phone calls
Google Voice allows for every phone you have to be stored in a single place. The service listens to your messages and then transcribes them into text messages so you can get them in email or through IM services. And just like Gmail, it combs through keywords so it can serve you targeted advertising based on the content of your voicemails. And, of course, it stores those voicemails.
Google knows where you are
With the recent release of Latitude, Google has the ability to track your exact position. This is a step toward helping advertisers and marketers to better target customers. But technology that allows your position – no matter where you are – to be broadcast is very dangerous. What if it gets into the hands of governments? Or stalkers? Or criminals? Or terrorists?
Google is watching the world
With Google Maps and Google Earth, the company is photographing the planet. It even has “live” cameras set-up across the world – constanting watching. These services are also capturing and storing all the data you plug in. So Google Maps knows where you are going and where you have been.
Google knows what your reading
If you use iGoogle or Google Reader then the company knows what your are reading everyday – because it controls your RSS feeds. It knows what articles you read. It knows what sites and sources you use.
So far Google has been a responsible caretaker – for the most part – of this trove of personal data. There have been no reports of people “vanishing” into Google vans or teams of Google burglers breaking into people’s homes when Google know they aren’t home. But companies change and evolve. And what happens if the data is stolen? Or what if Google one day decides to sell it? Why, for example, are they keeping it – all of it? Just to serve us with targeted ads? Really?
What do you think? Does it bother you that one company has so much information about, well, everybody?