Posted by: ateedub | July 20, 2008

Big Brother Google (Part 2)

Over the past several weeks since my first post on Big Brother Google, I’ve grown increasingly uncomfortable with the impact Google has – or could have – on my life.

The web has largely been an open space for users in the United States and Europe, as I talked about in my earlier post. Google’s free services add to the utility of and our enjoyment of using the Internet. But the first thing that starts to worry me is the sheer number of brands under the Google umbrella. Simply Google presents their various brands, some home-grown, others purchased. It’s quite an impressive list.

To discover this full list on Google’s own site is impossible. At least not without some serious digging.

One of the interesting links from Simply Google is to the Google Foundation.

Google.org aspires to use the power of information and technology to address the global challenges of our age: climate change, poverty and emerging disease. In collaboration with experienced partners working in each of these fields, we will invest our resources and tap the strengths of Google’s employees and global operations to advance five major initiatives: Develop Renewable Energy Cheaper Than Coal (RE<C), RechargeIT, Predict and Prevent, Inform and Empower to Improve Public Services, and Fuel the Growth of Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises.

I really like this idea, and I tend to be far more comfortable when companies have clearly named foundations associated with them. Then consumers know where their money goes and everything seems far more above board.

And I think that’s a big part of what has been bothering me with Google – transparency. Robert Scoble has an interesting post on this and sums it up nicely with:

I think Google has to be very transparent, very warm, and very open when it comes to privacy and the data it’s collecting on all of us and to many of us it’s coming across as closed, cold, and opaque.

And we all know the history with Microsoft being closed, cold, and opaque.

That’s one side of my growing unease. But the other is how much we’re coming to rely on the company. I have 2 gmail accounts (and am considering setting up a third just for this blog). I use their calendar to keep my schedule and their reader to read the ridiculous number of feeds I subscribe to. I do nearly all of my searches on Google, as does 70% of the rest of the US.

Putting aside privacy fears, the big problem with this is that Google holds us all hostage. I’m not suggesting the company will do anything ‘evil’, but a very real concern for me is that these services will do down or otherwise not be available when I need them. This happened earlier this month when Google Docs went down for about 45 minutes. In the past, my gmail account(s) have been unavailable for extended periods of time. While this hasn’t happened in the last 2 years, it’s still a concern, especially because I have been using one of my accounts for work (and yet gmail is still far more reliable than the email system at work).

The third factor that’s creeping me out is the recent ruling in the Viacom/YouTube case. Even if Google doesn’t use the data it gathers from us for evil, someone else may access it through subpoenas or by hacking their systems (it’s not impossible).

Despite all of this, I still really like a lot of Google’s tools and plan to keep using them. They’re generally reliable (even though they have never promised me their services will be available for as long as I want them), well-designed, and very useful.

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