In terms of Google:
After reading Ken Auletta’s “Googled,” I started thinking about the ongoing discussion of privacy online. This post is going to address issues of privacy in terms of personal data and larger corporations. Check back next week for Part 2, the little guys, which will address the privacy issues from the viewpoint of how we, the public, should be handling our personal information online.
But back to “Googled.”
Auletta mentions the importance of trust for Google. If users don’t trust the company, how can it grow? Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, reassured the public about protection of privacy, stating that the company won’t be able to survive if it misuses personal data about its users.
The reporter kept saying things like, “But you know a lot about me,” and “You know everything that I have ever done online.” And that may be true, but should we care? Google receives billions of search queries every day. Yes, somewhere buried in the company’s server amidst countless other data trails is our personal information. Yes, if they wanted to, the company could select one of us out of the estimated 300 million people that use the site each day. But are they really going to do that?
I don’t know why people are so convinced that Google cares about them as individuals. Google definitely cares about its users (just look at the uncluttered search page, and the company’s mission to drive people off their search engine to the destination as quickly as possible), and it cares about them as unique users to the point of understanding their behavior for targeted ads.
But I really don’t think anyone at Google is actually interested in any of my personal information. They don’t care that I did a search for handbags on Monday, and researched social networking on Tuesday. The company merely sees me as a data point, not as a human.
And besides that, if I am going to have to look at ads, I would rather that those ads have some relevance to things I am working on, or my interests and hobbies. So I am completely OK with the way that my data is used online.
Now vs. then
Everyone seems to be worried about privacy now. Maybe it is because they feel that the Internet is so big that they don’t have control over their information. Or maybe it is because they don’t know what personal information exists on the Internet. Or there is a possibility that they aren’t sure how their personal data is being used.
But whatever the reason, privacy is becoming a bigger discussion. Most of these issues existed in the past, before the Internet. Instead of having our credit card information stored in a computer, it was stored in files and folders. We had paper trails instead of electronic data trails.
So for now at least, I trust Google, and I trust the way that my information is used online. Maybe that’s because I’m well informed and I am sensitive to the information that I make available on the Internet. Or maybe I’m too trusting. But for now I am happy to be one of billions of data points in Google’s complex system.
Stay tuned for Part 2.