Thursday, January 06, 2011

Handing over my freedom to Google

My acquisition of a new Android Smart phone has proven to be the final link in my complete capitulation to the Google overlord.

Here is a list of what Google knows about me:

All of my internet searches: Every so often I experiment with competing search engines but I always seem to end up coming back to the big G.

All of my blogging: I started out on blogger and it has done pretty much everything I need so I never felt it worth the effort to change.

My calendar: About a year ago I got fed up with trying to synchronise multiple calendars between desktop, laptop and mobile phone so I started using Google's calendar.

All of my email:  You don't need to use gmail if you have an android phone but everything just synchronises more easily if you do. The funny thing is I never actually send email from a gmail address I just use gmail as a web enabled  email client. I actually have many email addresses that I use for different services and until recently Thunderbird was my email client of choice. Up to now I have shied away from gmail because Googles web client is slow, lacks features and is very poor at manipulating large volumes of email.  The seamless ease of using Gmail on multiple platforms has finally convinced me to give Google a chance for the moment at least.

Where I live and work and where all my friends live and work:  Google contacts is so handy isn't it?

What I look like, what my friends and family look like: Picasa is a great tool isn't it  and it is so easy to upload your photos to Google's online servers.

Where I am and where I go: I do sometimes turn off the location tracking features of my Android  phone but there are so many cool things that depend on it is seems a shame not to use it.

Taken all together that is an absolutely terrifying amount of data. More data, I would imagine than the secret police of the most repressive regimes ever held in their files about their most surveilled citizens. The really scary thing about this, if you choose to think about it, is the way all of this data is linked together. Google makes it almost impossible to use multiple identities for their services.

I might get some comfort from the fact that I am only one customer among many millions but that the anonymity of the crowd is worth less and less these days. Google has some of the smartest programmers on the planet working with powerful computer systems to develop very sophisticated data mining tools.

Do I believe that Google have evil intentions and will abuse this power I have handed over to them: Not really.

Do I think that Googles data could ever fall into the hands of an agency who's intentions were not so straightforward: Absolutely, in fact I think it is a near certainty that a time will come when Google will be forced to open up their databases to US or other government agencies for reasons of "Anti terrorism", "National security", "Protect the Children"  or otherwise.

Am I worried: Not really. I am a pretty boring person who leads a pretty boring life. My exploits are never going to end up on the front page of the tabloid newspapers.

But what if some really nasty people got that data?: I guess if criminals got my all my data they could have a field day but I am not wealthy enough to be a particular target and I do give Google some credit for data security. A bigger worry would be a repressive regime. Imagine if a wave of religious fundamentalism brought a repressive government into power and they used Google's data to persecute anyone who didn't conform to the official line? Then again if we are foolish enough to let that kind of government get into power we are going to have big problems regardless of whether we use Google or not.

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