Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Is anyone else nervous about Google?

It's been a little while since I last posted to this blog. I am now maintaining our OpenUp! blog at work, plus I have been distracted on another blog-ish project I'm doing with my brother, Anyway, so I login here only to find that now everyone needs to have a Gmail account to use the new Blogger. If that were an isolated occurence I would be a happy camper. But Google has been snapping up smaller web 2.0 companies like... um... well... a lot. Here's an interesting timeline of Google's acquisitions (viewable in anything but Internet Exploder). I guess I should be excited about the shiny, new, AJAX-y feel of the new Blogger site, but right now I feel like there is less and less elbow room on the World Wide Web. Google keeps hogging it up. All of a sudden Google feels like Wal-Mart.

Don't get me wrong. I really enjoy using Gmail and many other Google products, but lately I've been getting a little nervous about where Google is headed. Let me explain why. Fast forward five years. As you run your weekend errands, talking on your cell phone, Google is tracking you. (Currently Google requires a cell phone number to activate a Gmail account. Ever wonder why?) Your cell phone position can be determined with reasonable accuracy by triangulating three or more cell phone towers. (Cell phone tracking is already a service in some countries.) Maybe you don't care if Google tracks where you happen to be on a Saturday morning, but maybe you should. Remember, Google also knows where all the stores are thanks to Google Maps. So now Google knows where you shop and where you spend your time. Google knows if you go to church on Sunday or if you prefer to play golf. And you'd better believe all this information is very valuable to advertisers.

But I signed up for Gmail before they were collecting cell numbers, so I am safe. Or at least I thought I was until I did a quick search of my Gmail and realized that I have included my cell phone number in ten different emails. But at least they don't have my credit card information. Well, they didn't until last week, when my wife signed us up for Google Checkout and used it to save $10 on a purchase.

Let's review: Google either knows or soon will know where I live, where I work, where I shop, how I spend my time, and anything I happen to write in Gmail. It's all tied to my email address and it's all very trackable. So where do we draw the line when it comes to privacy? Or is everything fair game when it comes to marketing? And what happens when the subpoenas arrive at Google's front door? Yes, Big Brother is watching (or will be soon). It's just not the Big Brother you expected.

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