Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Friday, January 22, 2010

I got Googled too

Mark Zuckerberg is probably right when he says that privacy is ceasing to be a value; and then of course there's Scott McNealy's notorious — and now long-ago — comment that "You have no privacy anyway. Get over it". But I tend to think that there are degrees in these matters, and distinctions to be made. A great deal of personal information about me — i.e., about my character, personality, interests, friends, etc. — is available for anyone weird or bored enough to search online for it, but probably not as much as there would be if I used Facebook. But I'm sure I am as open to financial scrutiny, not by the average person googling but by people with access to the financial industries' many tools, as anyone else.

So there may not be as much privacy to preserve as there once was, but there's still some. And while I really don't believe that the particulars of my private life are of any interest to Google — they make money off aggregating data, not parsing it person by person — I can still get uncomfortable when I think about how much of my day-to-day life goes through Google's servers. That sometimes gets me thinking about the virtues of paper-based life organization, but more often what I consider is distributing my online information: moving my calendar from Google Calendar to my Backpack account, shifting from Google Reader to the gorgeous NewsFire or Fever, using a different search engine, and so on.
But here's the thing: Google gets more information from my Gmail account than from all those other sources — plus my search history — combined and multiplied several times over. So if I really want to distance myself from Google, I should probably ditch Gmail, right? And yet I haven't. Minor consideration: a quick check of All Mail yields 23,874 messages. What more can they learn? Major consideration: Gmail is so radically superior to any other email client that I can't bear the thought of going back to the Bad Old Days. And here's how Google and other smart companies defeat our concerns: by making products so valuable to us that we're willing to sell our privacy in order to get them.


  • 1. I think you had a post somewhere earlier about the problems of defining the boundaries of personhood as the cloud of info around an individual becomes amorphous.

    2. Is the real, corollary, or deeper, problem/fear follow as this info becomes used to influence behavior--i.e., the Tom Cruise character in The Minority Report?
    I surf to the UK Guardian web site and find an ad for Ohio insurance. :-)

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