Google has always touted themselves as a company which will do no evil. It’s a part of their posted Corporate Philosophy. However, in light of the recent revelation that Google keeps months of user-identifiable YouTube logs, and their recent claim that complete privacy is an unreasonable expectation, some people (okay, Slashdot), seem to wonder how accurate that claim is.
Admittedly, much of the commentary on the Slashdot article is standard Slashdot pants-wetting, but some of it is interesting. Ultimately, I’m not terribly sympathetic to the plaintiffs in the above lawsuit. Do I think that they should be able to have their private drive removed from Google’s Street View? Yes. However, they’re suing for $25,000 for reasons including ‘mental distress’. Admittedly, their suit isn’t too ridiculous as the sum of money is relatively low, and depending on how much they argue that their property value has dropped the amount may be sensible, but I very much doubt that there has been any drop in their property value relating to this photographing.
However, people are starting to notice and think about how much Google actually knows about us. Some people do all their web searching, keep all their e-mail in G-Mail, keep their calendars with Google Calendar, put their documents in Google Docs, and on and on. And Google uses all of this data to form as complete a picture about a user as they can. To date, it doesn’t appear that their using this data to target advertising directly at me, but that is related to it being more efficient to aggregate my behavior with people like me than to target me directly.
Google does a lot of good, I’m not trying to convince anyone to never use Google. I use Google for almost all of my web searching. Google Ads appear on this site. I have a GMail account. I’m interested in developing for and using Android. And I agree with Google’s sentiment that complete privacy is very, very difficult, maybe even impossible, to have in this day and age. But when there is a reasonable argument, such a a private drive, Google should be more receptive to removing such information from their cache. Plus, at my last job, some idiot programmer had, at some point, created an unprotected PHP page that would print out a ton of customer data, including names, addresses, and credit card numbers (if we still have them). Google found and indexed this, and I proceeded to immediately remove it once a customer discovered it while ego-searching. Highly embarrassing, and it took nearly 48 hours for this data to be removed from Google’s cache. More embarrassing from me and my company (I had only just recently took control of the website), but I think Google should hold some shame as well.
Due to Google’s success, and the realization of how much they know, some people are preparing to move forward with plans to take Google down. Cuil is the latest attempt, and their engine and layout is interesting. It’s not terribly accurate sometimes, but it’s interesting. Plus, Yahoo! has really improved their search over the last few years and I’ve noticed that they’ve really improved their relevancy over the last few years. In short, Google isn’t the end-all anymore, and there are privacy concerns with using their services, but those concerns exist everywhere you go on the Web. If you want to maintain any level of privacy, you may want to spread your online identity as much as possible. It’s less convenient, but convenience very rarely implies security or privacy. If you want privacy, you need to be willing to work at it.