Google Still Doesn’t Scare Me!

Google has done a couple things this week that have people screaming their heads off in fright. First, CEO Eric Schmidt said this:
We are very early in the total information we have within Google. The algorithms will get better and we will get better at personalisation.

“The goal is to enable Google users to be able to ask the question such as ‘What shall I do tomorrow?’ and ‘What job shall I take?’?”
And then it was announced that they are buying Feedburner (which I use for subscriptions) for $100 million.

Maluke.com
has a few interesting thoughts on the first matter:
In fact the first sign of this approach is how GMail marks the sender of emails “me” instead of “you”. It’s subtle, but having some background in processing semantics of the natural language and psychology I spotted it right away as soon as I logged in for the first time. It’s a way to erase the boundary between the person and a machine.
I noticed that, too, and what he says about it is true. The boundaries between man and machine are increasingly becoming blurred. Or, at least, our understanding of those boundaries is becoming blurrier. Who’s to say we know what we’re talking about?

In any case, here’s what I commented in response (edited for editing’s sake - read the original on the site if you like):
I’m also surprised how surprised everyone was about what Schmidt said. This is what I always imagined Google would be, and would do. In fact, the whole concept of the Web seems to be moving this direction - infinite data, shared across infinite systems, usable by everything that can benefit from it.

I’ve always wanted a company like Google to help me analyze my finances - at least I’d be able to see and work with and analyze the information that credit card companies and banks keep to themselves (when they’re not selling it to marketers).

Ultimately, we’ll make sacrifices to our privacy because sharing data will benefit us. And we will trust someone, because otherwise we’ll lose our minds. We already trust plenty of people who don’t even ask if we want them to track and sell our data (Internet Service Providers!!, banks, credit companies, the government). At least Google does us the courtesy of asking first.

As you can tell, I’m a tad less cynical about this than many. Maybe you’re right - perhaps it’s because it is “me” doing it.

The fault for the most part lies with an individual’s failure/reluctance to take responsibility for themselves, their lives, and their data. The privacy concerns (and security ones) are real, and any such system should by default be harmless - let users “opt in,” let them delete things and set limits on what information is collected. Amazon does pretty well with its recommendations - and they’re a store whose sole goal is to sell you more of their stuff. Google’s info-gathering, while larger in scale, might at least be useful to us in more ways than the commercial. As with anything, all Google needs to do is show that they can offer more value the more of your data they have access to, and we’ll see folks gradually giving over more and more. And being okay with it.

I’m reminded of the outcry when Facebook introduced the News Feed last fall. Every last bit of information they showed was visible prior to the presentation of it in one place. A lot of people thought a bit harder about what they chose to make visible after that. And that’s how it should be.
I’m not afraid of Google for two reasons:
  1. I trust Google and have no reason to suspect my trust is misplaced. They’ve done nothing to shake my gut feeling that my data is safe with them and being put to good use. This is the way I work: I trust first. Not everyone can do that - some need companies and individuals to prove they should be trusted. They take things slower, and give up more as they become more comfortable. I trust Google because I need to for my sanity. I use Google Search, Google Blog Search, Google News, Google Analytics, Google Webmaster Tools, YouTube, Feedburner, Google AdSense, Blogger, Google Docs and Spreadsheets, Google Maps, Google Earth, GMail, Google Talk, Picasa, iGoogle, Google Reader, Google History, Google Toolbar, Google Apps for your Domain, Google Calendar, Google Groups, Google Scholar, Google Book Search, Google Product Search (rarely, I do most online shopping on Amazon) and a ton of the stuff in Google Labs. If I didn’t trust them, I would go crazy. I also trust them because...

  2. They provide tremendous value. Look at that list above. That is a lot of stuff that they do for me - all at no cost. And even if they decided to charge, I would probably pay because it would be worth it. They’re moving towards integrating these services, and I would definitely pay for that. Google Life, they might call it. It will be amazing. And it will be worth sharing some potentially sensitive information with them. Information that somebody else already has, anyway.
You might disagree. Please do so in the comments.