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Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Google : The Big Brother

I am not able to conjure a better sobriquet for Google than the Big Brother and if there is a better one in your mind, please enlighten this lower mortal. An obvious reason for calling Google so is the fact that it has helped each one of us myriad times. Many people in my college, and presuming that its the condition all over the world, wouldnt have got their degrees with such ease without google. I know many people who have stopped going to libraries if they need some information. The reason being, which was aptly pointed out by one of my friends, "If its not on Google, its not worth enough". Now, looking at Google from an Orwellian point of view, it has changed the way we think. In this sense, Google is starting to define how the net is organised with its magnificent Search Engine. GMAIL is supposedly the next big thing in the EMAIL world. Orkut is gaining popularity day by day. Everyone's favourite search engine now also owns the world's most popular blogging tool. Isnt it just another takeover from a secretive, hyper-competitive company with no respect for the personal privacy of its users. Google, which was previously just controlling the information that we get from the world is now reading our thoughts too. Call me paranoid, but is 2004 the begining of an era which will lead us to Orwell's anti-utopian 1984?

P.S. I hate to mention this but I love google a lot and I am hoping that it would come up with new things to control our miniscule brains. One of my friends has already requested Santa Google Claus for a Messenger.


Blogger Som said...

Man..i am sending my resume to Thy 'Big Brother'!
Chk out http://www.google.co.in/jobs/ & http://labs.google.com/ ! I like their areas of Interest!

10:47 AM  
Blogger Chris Holland said...

Here's the deal, Google is being up-front about what it precisely does with email you read.

All privacy concerns raised about Google absolutely and completely apply to other web-based mail systems such as yahoo and hotmail. Whether or not GMail has developed a technology to determine appropriate keywords from email content is irrelevant.

The technology, in and out of itself is irrelevant to privacy. The fact that Google has developed this technology AND is being up-front about it, is what has gotten people to start thinking about what is relevant to privacy:

The fact that e-mail, in its most basic form is insecure and can be snooped. The fact that your e-mail is transferred thru many machines before it makes it to your ISP's inbox, before your personal computer's mail program retrieves it locally. The fact that at any point during the short life of this one email message, any number of mischievous entities could have snooped it. Those specific privacy concerns apply to e-mail in general.

When further scoping this down to free web-based emails, the next relevant privacy concern is the fact that, all your free web-based e-mail living "on the web", means that you are entrusting a third-party with permanent storage of all your e-mail.

From a technical standpoint, there is nothing that could stop Yahoo and Hotmail from mining all of their users' mail boxes for specific keywords and feed them some advertisement of their own, or, sell their e-mail addresses to 3rd-party spamvertising companies. Why do Yahoo and Hotmail, in theory, not sell their members' e-mail addresses? Beside legal issues, they would lose their customers' trust which would end-up hurting their revenues.

Google just happens to have found a way to supplant annoying ad banners within bloated and clumsy web-mail interfaces, with advertisements that are very likely to be relevant to most users at the specific time they read their e-mail.

Sensationalistic press and bloggers are having a field day with this headline: "Google Reads your Mail". What I keep asking people is this: "Define read". The amount of "reading" google does is not unlike typical spam filtering found in most ISPs and web-mail providers. At which point "Read" really means "data is crunched by computers". No, the only relevant question that remains is "And then what?". What happens after the "reading" occurs? This is where "Terms of Use", "Privacy Policy", and relative trust in the company comes in. What happens after a piece of e-mail is sent to my hotmail account?

Personally, and for now, if i'd have to give the benefit of the doubt to Microsoft or Google, I'd go for Google.

Again, in this case, Google's technology is irrelevant when it comes to privacy concerns, the only relevant consideration is what a company will or will not do.

6:34 PM  
Blogger Me said...

First of all I would like to thank Chris for the funda that he has posted here. I wrote an email to him on the same issue. Given below is an excerpt from my mail, as well as Chris's reply.

My mail --
"There is one more thing that I would like to add is the fact that
Google will soon be a listed company and because of the pressure from
shareholders it might have to change some of its policies. Selling its
huge email lists wont be such a bad idea after all because it does
give up space of 1000 MB and I dont think that anyone can fill 1000 MB
in his/her lifetime with just personal text mails."

Chris's reply --
"Both Yahoo and Microsoft are *also* publicly-traded companies. For the
longest time Yahoo has struggled to turn a profit, yet have they sold
their members' email addresses to advertisers? As far as *we* know,
no, they haven't, or at least not outside of their privacy policy. And
again, this is what it comes down to: privacy policy and trust. As a
user there are a couple of things that protect you: 1) you can read
their privacy policy and look for loopholes that would allow them to
sell your info to 3rd parties. I've read google's a while ago, and it
seemed pretty damn clear and simple, unlike yahoo and hotmail's which
were like a pain to decipher. 2) you can vote with your feet. Again,
Google is being very "up-front" about what it is that they do, if you
are not comfortable with that as a user, then you can choose to not
sign-up or cancel your account. Google has made it very easy to
completely delete your account. There's a link right in the settings
that lets you do that.

Having your information sold to 3rd parties is a risk you run going
with ANY "free" web-based service, yahoo and hotmail included. This
risk is a fact of interacting with the web.

Google just happens to be getting more attention because it is trying
to do something revolutionary, so the competitors' and media FUD
machines have been in full-steam.

Most people don't try to stop and think, they go for knee-jerk

it's all quite silly, really :) hehe

Thank you once again Chris for all that funda

9:49 AM  

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