Friday, March 30, 2012

Google - Do No Evil?

Google's policy has always been one of "Do no evil", but can Google really maintain this policy as it is now, not to pick on Google, but can any of the large technology companies "Do no evil" all the time.  When Google started out it was a very simple search engine, you put in a search term and it delivered accurate content back (it still does this for the most part).  Then Google got into selling advertising on it's website, which to be honest it had to do in order to stay in business, you can't keep servers running without funding.  Then Google bought the advertisers, now Google is involved in everything from your search, social media, email, mapping, TV and even phones, in reality Google knows more about you than you do.  Now it's easy to pick on Google because they do have you covered on all bases. 

If you want to have "fun", open up the GMail web client and start sending emails to a friend, notice as the emails go back and forth that the advertising is conforming to your conversations.  If you talk about cycling you might see advertising about bike shops, possibly even local bike shops (since Google knows where you are), if you talk about dinner plans, you may start seeing advertising about a restaurant around the corner, if you talk about Star Wars, you'll get links to sites that pertain to Star Wars, and so on.  This happens because Google has in their privacy policy the ability to scan your email message.  Think of this as payment for using GMail.  All of Google's services aren't free to you, you pay with your information.  This is the same with Facebook, Twitter, MSN, or any other company of the sort, you're paying for their services with your information.  They then turn that information into advertising revenue.  While this is a bit creepy, it's also understandable.

Next Generation

The next generation of technology will be like Siri on the iPhone.   Siri works by you asking a question, your verbal question is then transmitted back to servers at Apple where it's decoded, processed and a response is delivered back to you (where it might be correct).  While Siri may be mostly harmless right now, my concern is with the next generation of interfaces, when tools like Microsoft's Kinect and Siri are in more homes and these tools start sending information back to remote servers for decoding, this will be interesting because the same people who are upset with the TSA's body scanning will be more than happy to place a camera or microphone in their living rooms so they can easily interact with their televisions.  Also will more of these companies be selling "Software as a Service" where they give you the technology for free or as part of a package and you pay with your information.  While in some ways this could literally be lifesaving, think about it a device that can sense you having a heart attack and call 911 for you (or even better figure out you're having a heart attack before it happens and gets you to take steps to resolve it), but at the same time it can sense that you're unhappy and show you advertising that may cheer you up or sees you working out and shows you exercise equipment.  As consumers we'll need to be educated to ensure we understand the technology we are allowing into our personal space.  Personally I'd be very cautious of anything that puts a camera or microphone in my living room, even if the interface to the provider is indirect, I'd be always wondering about it (I've read to many spy novels).

Legislation

As consumers we expect our legislatures to protect us from large companies, but I feel that some of the legislation that may be introduced could harm innovation rather than protect the consumer.  While large companies are concerned with the cost of implementing do-not-track features in their systems, these same legislative efforts could make it more difficult for the next Facebook or Google to even get off the ground.  As a consumer it's our responsibility to reward companies who mostly do no evil with our business, and if a company is doing evil or behaving in a way contrary to what we feel is correct, then we need to take our business elsewhere.   While Google sometimes frightens me, I do accept the fact that they are providing me with a service and that I'm paying for that service with my information, think of it as a barter system that isn't taxable.  Is Google doing no evil? In my eyes they are walking the line right now, but so is Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, LinkedIn and every other company that's providing services for information.

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