Sunday, March 30, 2014

OK Google why do you want me to go to that creepy place?

Google Now keeps directing me to a spot in some isolated woods near my home. I am pretty sure I have never visited that spot.  Is Google trying to tell me something? This intelligent personal assistant is also convinced that the only blog I read on a regular basis is Greedy Goblin though I have never subscribed to him. At least I have finally managed to convince the oracle to stop giving me a daily blast of profanity from the Urban Dictionary.

For years I tried to resist the ever more intrusive data gathering of Google, Facebook and similar services but a few months back I bowed to the inevitable. Accepting that Google, GCHQ  and the NSA already have more than enough information to profile, analyse and categorise every single aspect of my on-line existence I decided to go all in and at least try to get some benefit out of it. I started a new Google+ account in my own name to which I linked my email accounts and web searches. I switched to the Chrome browser and turned on location sharing and other privacy violating features of my Android phone. My workplace co-incidentally switched to Google services for email around the same time which I also dutifully linked. There is now no aspect of my existence that the big G does not have a spotlight on.

One big payoff that I hoped to get from all of this sharing was to be able to use Google Now. With all of this knowledge about me at its disposal surely the intelligent personal assistant would finally become more than a glorified weather forecasting widget.

Three months into this experiment and the results have been somewhat mixed. On the plus side Now knows where I live and where I work and is pretty good at predicting the timings of the public transport that I use to commute between them. On the other hand it seems rather bad at predicting stuff that I would like to read. I probably did visit Gevlon's blog and the Urban dictionary at some stage over the last few weeks but I would not consider either of these to be essential viewing. Nevertheless both of them became persistently stubborn residents of my Google now screen.

Google Now seems very resistant to the notion of one actually selecting the things one would like to see. I could find no way of asking it to show me Tobold, Wilhelm or Bill Harris for example instead of Gevlon. Thankfully I did eventually manage to convince it to stop showing me profanity from the Urban Dictionary but there does not seem to be a general ability to select and deselect individual sources for regular viewing. Google Now follows the frustrating trend of other Google services which insist that they know what you want better than you do yourself.

Then of course there is the creepy woods. At least once a day this navigation  card pops up on my Google Now. Usually when a new location appears I can delete it and Google asks whether or not I want to see that location again. I get no such query when I try to get rid of the directions to this wood. It is almost as if Google interprets my repeated attempts at deleting this card as ongoing interest in the place. Perhaps I should just give in and go there after all. Could it be that Google really is trying to tell me something.?

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