Monday, May 9, 2011

Indexing the world's information

I've been reflecting on Kashmir Hill's article in Forbes about "Six Key Privacy Moments" in Steven Lev's 'biography' of Google In the Plex:
  1. Even Google executives can be unhappy with the information revealed about them in a Google search
  2. CEO Larry Page thinks there are greater privacy concerns people should react to
  3. Google face recognition exists, but is held back as being 'radioactive'
  4. Google's "Privacy Council" didn't see the hatred of Buzz coming
  5. Google's purchase of user-tracking DoubleClick enables it to track user activity "to every corner on the Web"
  6. The Wi-Spy WiFi tracking scandal was a Google privacy policy disaster
If you want more on the detail of these six, read Hill's article. For me, the important bottom line was the quotation on which her article ended: “There’s so much Google has in terms of information about people that they have to be super careful,” says Levy. “Any mistake they make gets amplified and seen in regards to all the other information they have.”

Google famously sets out to 'index [all] the world's information' and claims to hold a core value, 'Don't be evil.' Increasingly the company finds commercial pressure from rivals and internal ambition to tempt it to compromise on the latter in pursuit of the former.

Expect users, perhaps irrationally, to fixate on unexpected privacy concerns - Larry Page may be right that users fixate on the wrong concerns. Expect the market increasingly to demand re-gained control of information and genuine privacy assurances. But, these goals deeply conflict with the commercial realities that provide the services we all take for granted, 'free' of charge.

As we consistently argue, the services are not free; they come at the price of an almost Faustian pact, the cost of our privacy. Most of the time, we don't care about our privacy. But individuals do begin to care, under almost random and essentially unpredictable circumstances. By then it's probably too late.
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