So I’m feeling like so many of my latest postings have been focused on various aspects of Google, but that company really has a way of making itself prolific in the news. Unfortunately, the news that strikes me about them comes from a very suspicious place. It’s a place that suggests that if they continue on their current rampage, privacy, personal security, liberties and freedoms of individuals are all at great risk, and most likely this will be upheld in the name of fighting terrorism or some other myth that our world governments will come up with. If you haven’t yet, you should read a book by Milton Mueller called ruling the root: internet governance and the taming of cyberspace …otherwise put, how cyberspace was politicized…and this could happen to Google or Yahoo! in due time.
I’ll submit that Google is on a path that will be too tempting for governments not to tap on when the time is right. Why do I think this? Well, the following two links will provide some background that’s worth understanding:
“So what’s the big deal?”, you might ask, “afterall, Yahoo! has some of these components too”. Well, Yahoo! doesn’t make me any more comfortable than Google for one. What worries me is that both of these companies have focused on providing their services through a centralized infrastructure which means that they can collect and correlate lots of information in ways that we will never know about. Though only a recent development, credit reporting agencies must make consumers aware of what information they have about them and allow this to be corrected. In this new data game that Yahoo! and Google are playing, there are no rules for engagement and for usage of the information they have collected. The recent ChoicePoint scandal certainly helped shine the light (for those who cared) on what little control we have about the data that is collected and used about us.
No, don’t fool yourself into thinking this is all but one of those silly “cookie” issues where there’s really no personally identifiable information. This is quite serious, and yes there is lots of personally identifiable information. Ever paid for anything on Yahoo! or bought anything from a Yahoo! store, well then they have your real name and address. If you have a Yahoo!Mail account, they likely have your real e-mail address as well. Google is being rumoured to be working on a payment system which should also provide them w/some of that valuable information. However, even without this payment information, the fact that both companies have toolbars that track your every move through the Web means that they can see and collect lots of personally identifiable information about you whenever you fill out a form of any kind. Include their desktop search products and now everything on your hard drive is open for them to review along side your clickstream and transactions (yes, they can see when you transact w/a site). Neither Yahoo! nor Google have had very much traction with their social networks, but Yahoo!’s IM product now ties in your friends into their web of information about you…hence why Google needs one of those too.
What better tools could be made available to governments to suppress people’s freedoms and privacy in and out of cyberspace? How will China require these services to be employed? Note what they forced MSN Spaces to do. The shortsighted among us might say that this could never happen in this country because we will all fight this. I submit that the Patriot Act and a number of other regulations that now exist in our country were just as unimaginable before 9/11, and that using terrorists and the security & safety of our children, as excuses has done more to wipe out the human rights that our country’s forefathers fought and died for more than any other single action since the formation of this Republic. It’s not inconceivable that this could go further as the pace of our government’s desire to take people out of the responsibility loop continues to gain momentum.
OK, all of this to say, consider decentralized tools, or at using different providers’ tools, not just leverage any single provider’s integrated offering. If you use IM from any of these companies, then consider not using their toolbars or other products so as not to provide them more information to correlate. I for one continue to use Yahoo! IM, but rarely if ever use e-mail, search, or any other of their apps. I use Google for search, news, and Gmail for non-essential e-mail. Copernic is my desktop search app and I use no toolbar. Be careful about buying into the integrated benefits these companies offer, as these could be the ones that one day come to bite you.