Google: Scary? Awesome? Scary Awesome?

Posted: December 15th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Technology | Tags: , , | 1 Comment »

After my recent acquisition of an iPhone, I decided to fix up my long-neglected Google Reader account, to feed into NewsNetWire on my handsized crack.

After adding my feeds, Google — apparently using my emails from Gmail as a reference — took it upon itself to suggest several new feeds I may enjoy:

AMERICAN.COM — A Magazine of Ideas, Online

E. Kowalski’s blog

Firearms and Training

Residents of Gainesville, FL

Soul of Star Trek

Apparently, Google thinks that I am a libertarian(ish), mathematically-inclined, gun-loving Sci-Fi nerd who lives in Gainesville, FL. Google is, in fact, entirely correct.

This is awesome, because I found at least one blog I would like to follow.

This is scary, because Google’s CEO, Eric Schmidt, doesn’t understand privacy. Of course, Google’s PR Fire Dept claims poor Schmidt was terribly misquoted.

Years ago, Wired ran a story portraying 2 worlds of pervasive surveillance. One was a dystopian world, a police state where the government used a network of hidden cameras to maintain order and eliminate crime. The feeds from this video, of course, was entirely protected and secret. The other world, less dystopian, was also a world under constant surveillance — but all the video feeds were publicly available. Want to know if your friends are already at the bus stop? You can check the feed. Want to know what the lines at an event are? You can check the feed.

While many look at both worlds with some level of disquiet, the truth is we are approaching both worlds. The former, the government is instituting without a peep from us — in the US, traffic cams are everywhere. On the other hand, we are freely creating the later world through social media; why bother installing public surveillance? People surveil themselves and proudly submit it for public consumption via YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter.

In a way, the very act of publishing information might be an abandonment of anonymity and information we normally consider private. A couple of years ago, researchers discovered they could easily link data sets, despite anonymizing attempts. Have we ever truly had anonymity and privacy, or has it merely been an illusion created by insufficiently advanced data collection and mathematical techniques?

If privacy (or the illusion of such) dies (and some say it already has), who has killed it — the Googles, the Governments, the Statisticians, or the Tweets?