Friday, December 09, 2005

The problem with Google

I have just finished reading an article in USA Today (you get it free at the hotel - I don't buy it) about Google and how some are now positing that it is moving from a big cuddly alternative to Microsoft to the image of Big Brother. I have also just given up bothering to read a book called "......." this is not because its rubbish (though maybe it is) it's just that I think I got the point of it all pretty early on and don't have the patience to read further - which is sort of ironic when you come to think about it.

I don't really like Google and I never really have. Yet despite that, I have a gmail account and am blogging on and use their search engine daily. So clearly I am a hypocrite, but like lots of hypocrites I am also a bit of a tortured soul. I utilize Google it because it currently seems to be the best way, but I am left feeling uncomfortable. Just like Google, push to digitize all the World's books. I don't know exactly what is wrong with that, and the answer may be absolutely nothing - but something does not feel right.

But what I am uncomfortable about is the volume of data that Google is ammassing and what they will eventually do with it. They have a lot of information about you (yes you) they know more about you than you would be comfortable with and not all of that information is good information.

To cut to the chase, at some point in the future (now for some of us) it will be possible to draw up a very accurate picture of you from this data. Simple stuff about your age, address (and exact physical location if logged on), social security number, family members and friends etc is already available, but so too now (and increasingly so) is information on your activities and lifestyle preferences.

If it is true that the majority of searches on google and yahoo are porn related for example, then it is technically possible to build a profile of you from search and web activity on your porn preferences. The reality is you probably do look at and download porn, and if you are a man and say you don't you are probably a liar. Even women are now ever increasingly accessing web porn.

As a fairly fundamental Christian I suppose I should be expected to have little sympathy with this situation. But this is not about the moral and ethical issues around porn, it is about how that information on your web activities could be used.

Look at it this way - blackmailers or corrupt government in the future have a treasure chest to work on. Imagine the future horror of recieving an anoymous message telling you that details of 'your' porn surfing will be sent to your child via email or phone unless you pay up (electronically of course)?

Its a nightmare scenario, but realistically it will happen at some point. Remember for all the efforts at data security, it is insiders who almost always breach the security and commit crimes. If the information is there, if the motivation is there, then it will likely happen.

The kind of data that Google is ammassing, is potentially explosive and gold to those who may exploit it. No wonder Google are trying to pre-empt future legislation by employing lobbyists in Washington. Its not that I don't trust Google per se, but who knows who will have access to this information in the future, what legislation may pass, how it might be exploited and what damage could be done. There should be a broad, open and intelligent debate on the ethics and the future implications on society that this kind of data mountain may have, the future is what we make of it it is not simply predetermined by technology advances.

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