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August 10, 2010

Knowledge and power

In this post, Andrea shares her (ir?)rational fear of a certain search engine giant …

Paranoia. Quirkiness. Realism. Whatever the label, there is an obscene number of things in life that freak me out. Some of these things, like the Montauk Monster and the little baby oranges that grow inside of larger oranges (or as I call them, parasitic oranges) are utterly irrational. These are things I really shouldn’t waste my time worrying about.

Andrea WisdorfThen, on another level, there’s a whole other category of things that give me the heebie jeebies. Things that are, to me, quite rational concerns but admittedly perhaps somewhat improbable or indeterminate. Like what, you ask? Well, for starters, being mauled by a bear. Gamma rays. DNA profiling. Googleâ„¢.

Oh yes, Google. Despite being an avid user of Gmail and a fan of linked data Internet searches, I am very leery–if not scared–of Google and I’d like to share my reasoning:

  1. The sheer amount of data and information Google has access to.
    We willingly give our data to Google with every Internet search we conduct, every e-mail we draft in Gmail, every document we create in Google docs, every phone call we make with Google voice, every time we use our iPhones to find the nearest restaurant with Google maps. Google has so much data, in fact, that it recently purchased a wind farm to assist in economically powering its million some data centers and more than 450,000 servers (servers that it builds on its own, an operation a Google server designer himself once called ‘Our own Manhattan Project’). Currently enthralled in a massive lawsuit over privacy and unlawful data collection across the globe, this is only the beginning. Knowledge is power, intelligence is profitable. For now, Google uses this data to profit from advertising while offering an extremely powerful tool for internet users. But what happens if Google decides to leverage all that data some other way? What if someone else gets their hands on all that information? Like when Google China was hacked to reveal the source code and information on human rights activists?
  2. Google’s aim to be, well, everything to everyone-whether you like it or not.
    Google has a hand in every pie, across the globe: Internet, telephones, television, health care, biotechnology, you name it. It’s one thing to corner your market but when your market is, well, everything, I’m fairly certain there’s an inherent risk of a monopoly present. I’m not the only who feels this way: Google has actually already been declared a monopoly by the French government and has been investigated on similar charges by the European Commission. Also recently, Google has been in talks over net neutrality-something that in theory would debunk this point of mine-but read between the lines. The net neutrality that Google, in partnership with Verizon, wants is very different from the net neutrality posed by the FCC. Some argue that the Google/Verizon version could make the Internet more or less a closed platform.
  3. Google has political power and it has flexed this muscle internationally.
    Domestically, Google employs a team of 30 staffers to work capitol hill while linking itself with a few of the biggest names in lobbying, like Podesta Group and McBee Strategic Consulting. While the giant appears to be lobbying for some socially awesome things, like clean energy, in addition to pretty predictable open data and tech legislation, it’s also building relationships and bridges for future efforts. This really isn’t that brow-raising when compared with the lobbying efforts (and dollars spent) by other major corporations in the U.S., but paired with the sway of power Google appears to hold across borders, such as the ability (and the backing of the U.S. government) to bring internet censorship in China to its knees at least temporarily, it’s just a tiny unnerving, no? Every super hero fights the conscious and ongoing battle of using power for good instead of evil. As long as Google is as dedicated to this fight as they claim to be, perhaps we’re okay – but is what we’re trusting them with worth the risk?
  4. Airplanes
    So perhaps not a reason, but really … why, oh why, does Google need a fighter jet AND a robot spy plane? Let alone a fighter jet OR a robot spy plane?

Perhaps the only thing I’ve illustrated in this blog post is my own paranoia or my overarching fear that the Internet has been built and continues to be built and used without anyone thinking about the consequences. But hey, we’re all afraid of something. Unless, of course, you’re Google.

What do you think? Are you afraid of Google?