Deepening the Conversation

thinking about questions of authority, technology, learning, and 2.0 in academic libraries

Googleplex. Horror movie.


I took a brief break this afternoon from coming up with creative reasons to do things other than pack my kitchen cabinets and fretting about not having an apartment in C-U yet to check in with my online peeps, my twitterati and FriendFeed folks.

I found myself a bit surprised to see how enthusiastically this savvy smart technologically forward thinking group of folks has embraced the beta testing of Chrome. Embraced it despite knowing it is from Google, miner of all data. And also despite the fact that there is general acknowledgment that while it is wicked fast, it lacks most bell & whistle features that folks depend on in Firefox and IE.

For me, Google has swung the pendulum back to paranoia inspiring. In library school, I was on the fence about the goodness of the Google, leaning towards concern. Over the last few years, my conscience has twinged me from time to time, but I have found their tools to be too too useful to give up for mere privacy concerns. But a Google Browser (and the in-the-works Google phone!) have inspired renewed fear. That’s right folks, fear.

Google says their motto is “don’t be evil”. And Google says that they just want to make all the information in the world publicly available. But I can no longer see how their emphasis on gaining access to my personal info, my impossible to get at personal info (like what I say on the phone!) — and everybody else’s personal info– in every possible way can be seen as anything but a force for Evil.

Because if they want to make all info available, pulling the info in is only step one. Aggregating and sending it out into the world is the inevitable outcome of their mission as combined with their current product development.

Based on Frienderati lack of Chrome-aversion (the whole privacy/googleplex thing is enough to ensure I won’t touch it) I am now actively dreading the Google Phone. Because I’ll need to come up with a way to block incoming calls from it, people. Google already gets enough of my private data to play with (and I wish I could wean myself from what google tools I use). But when the Google Phone comes out, I will no longer know when I making the choice to sell out the future for convenience’s sake.

Am I too paranoid? I really don’t think so. Google isn’t Microsoft — they are most explicitly not in the business of creating productivity products for cash income. They are in the business of making information accessible. When they go into the business of giving away productivity tools, you have to ask how that helps them achieve their own goals.

When media literate, digitally literate, technologically literate powers of teh interwebs turn their faces away from the implications, what chances do we stand of teaching our students to protect their own data? Oh, I just deleted a positively apocalyptic sentence comparing erosion of privacy to global warming. ::sigh:: That makes it time to close the post.

Interwebs, am I alone in my fear?


6 thoughts on “Googleplex. Horror movie.

  1. *sigh* You’re not alone, I suppose (I haven’t even started with Chrome, since I figured I’d let others bang on it awhile before I picked it up – this is how I do most of my tech-choosing, through other people). But I’ll admit – I love Googlestuffs. They make my life easier. They’re free. To date, I’ve considered the ‘cost’ of them having my data not something I fear much, though I’m aware and wary of it.

    Do you really think they’ll be aggregating what you say on the phone? I figure it’s just a new way for them to package their goodies and give them something to sell along with it – I can’t imagine they’d be interested in the herculean task of actually mining all that – and the outcry from something like that would shake the earth if they tried. (If we get pissed when the government does it, no way in hell is a corporation going to be able to pull it off.) Even after the enthusiastic adoption of Chrome, a few hours later the horrible EULA that goes along with it was all over Friendfeed and twitter warning folks off since Google claims the right to any content you post/create using Chrome, and the problems people ran into when trying to do a complete uninstall of Chrome. I suppose I’m confident that if there’s anything creepy in the fine print that the folks who have *been* catching it, will keep catching it.

    I suppose this reflects my utter and supreme laziness.

  2. Colleen,
    I am absolutely confident that Google will be aggregating what we say on the phone. Just like they collect and aggregate everything we say over GTalk and over GMail and in our search boxes. The purchase of DoubleClick really clinched it. What Google sells is eyeballs to advertisers, but what they really sell is the ability to microtarget.

    And they will count on our continuing laziness. I can’t beleive how many of the tech literate shiny golden internet gods downloaded Chrome with the offending EULA!

    And I’m with you — google toys are very very useful! But every time I add one to my stable, my anxiety notches up a bit more. So now, my guiding principle on Googlestuffs is “what does this do that makes it worth my soul”. And no body ha said anything within my eyeshot that indicates Chrome is even anything special…certainly not special enough to allow anyone to to give away their every keystroke.

  3. No, you’re certainly not alone. After my first visceral “oooo shiny” reaction to Chrome, my next thought was, “wait, if IE is a tool of the Monolith, how is Chrome not a tool of the Other Monolith?”

    And I share your surprise at the speed and enthusiasm, without apparent critical reflection, with which Chrome was downloaded among the “shiny golden internet gods” (love that phrase). And I hadn’t heard about the EULA — I’ll have to look into that, it sounds good and juicy — but that makes me even more surprised.

    I do think I remember something about a “stealth mode” that’s available in Chrome, where cookies and history aren’t saved, etc., but how do we know that Google isn’t still harvesting those data somewhere?

    I actually disagree with Colleen’s view that there would be a public outcry if Google aggregated conversations taking place over the Google phone. If we get enough shiny cool toys in exchange, we will accept almost any invasions of our privacy. (We get pissed when the government does it because they don’t give us shiny cool toys. Also, not everyone is pissed at the government.)

    What really really worries me, though, is colleges and universities moving to Gmail as their enterprise-wide email system. I have to think that, in the age of FERPA, Gmail is offering them some assurances as to the security of their data, but do we trust those assurances? Really truly?

    So yeah, not downloading Chrome any time soon over here. Y’all have fun beta-testing for them, ‘kay?

  4. *sigh* So I’ve been thinking this over in light of getting info on how things went politics-wise (I’ve been in a state of suspended learnimation lately with being so busy). And after reporting to a friend to stay away from Chrome and delineating the reasons why….yeah, ok. As I was listing the reasons for this person to not take advantage of Chrome, she kept getting more freaked out.

    Uncle Google is turning into Creepy mcCreeperson, and I fear that i simply have Fear of The Man Fatigue. God help us if the government ever manages to get their hands on it – what an allfired mess THAT’d be.

  5. You’re not alone, Rudi, and I share your bemusement. In general, I’m frustrated by the polarization of technology criticism discussions on the Web.

  6. I’ve eschewed a number of Google tools for this very reason. Recently I dipped my toe into Google Docs, because I have to admit that it’s very useful for documents that I work on from multiple locations, but I don’t think that I’ll be making a habit of it.

    I’m wary of any one company having so much information about people. Having the motto “Don’t be evil” is all well and good, but without knowing how they define “evil”, or whether that goalpost can move, just how good can it be?

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