Friday, November 03, 2006

BEWARE! Google watches us all!

According to The Guardian newspaper, Google is becoming a database of human activity that tracks where we go and what we do.

Google stores all of our searches (gulp!), it caches our web pages and our blogs, it can even alter search results according to your wishes.

The real problem is not Google. Google is just a machine. The problem is what we choose to do with that information.

We long ago gave up our ability to travel a distance and be unknown, and in many ways that is a good thing. Criminals are followed by their computerized records no matter where they may lurk. An electronic society moves faster and offer more opportunity than a paper-based one.

Another mixed blessing are data-harvesting services to track your past and present. It's great when you are trying to pay a bill or get credit to make a big purchase, but a horror if your information falls into the possession internet bandits.

Now what you express verbally on the Internet can be stored and tracked, even years after you wrote or uploaded it. You leave a trail every time we speak out on a message board, write a blog post, or post our photo on the web. Google now sniffs it out and stores it. Our friends and allies can see it, but so can internet trolls or cyberstalkers.

Your potential employers can track your opinions too. For those of us who use blogs and social networking sites, we have to now make a serious decision on how much of our real life we let into our online life. I know I had to make this choice before I started this blog.

How many people are going to be forever haunted by their MySpace profiles or blog posts? Usenet already has a database that goes back to 1981. Two decades of conversations, arguments, rants and innuendo are there. Google now serves that up for public consumption.

Perhaps we will have to get used to the idea that humans are forever in flux. I'm not the same person I was last month, or last year, or last decade. You think you can know a person by what they posted on a blog last year, last week, or a decade from now?

With Google Earth and mapping services being added to the mix, people may soon be physically tracked by search engine services. Celebrities already have a problem, bloggers share where they are eating or walking with a snooping public. Will we all soon be ratted-out by our cellphones and Google accounts?

Like #6 from The Prisoner, we are not numbers, we are free people. The real question is as powerful tracking and search engine technology comes online, do we care if people watch us and read our blog posts as we act on that freedom?

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