December 16, 2004

The Dark Side of Google

Greetings. Google has some great search services. We all depend on them. But merely having a couple of smiling young founders and a "do no harm" slogan doesn't change the increasing risks associated with their operations.

Google has created a growing information repository of a sort that CIA and NSA (and the old KGB) would probably envy and covet in no uncertain terms -- and Google's data is virtually without outside oversight or regulation.

It is reported that Google has maintained a record of essentially every search (including the IP address information, time/date stamps, etc.) done on their systems, and has developed internal tools specifically to mine "interesting" tidbits from this vast storehouse. Even persons who turn off their cookies (which Google uses in significant profusion) could likely be tracked to all of their searches with sufficient effort. For static-IP address users, this effort could be relatively minimal.

In an age of ever-eroding civil liberties, the value of this data to governments, litigants, and others on an ongoing and retrospective basis could be vast indeed.

The added benefit to Google of having access to the scanned and OCR'd versions of millions of books (whether copyrighted or not) most likely vastly exceeds any immediate or even medium-term advertising revenue possibilities. The mere availability of this new mass of data, even before a single outside search relating to it has been logged, will be of incredible value to Google in an untold number of ways once they start crunching on it. And thanks to the new deals Google is making with libraries, the copyright holders won't see a dime in return.

Google has become the smiling 800-pound gorilla of the Internet. They've done this with the help of a somewhat fanatical following who just can't imagine that someday Google might do (or be compelled to do) something nasty with all that data they have salted away.

What makes this all the more difficult is that their services are so good, and that there is no reason to suspect at this point that Google has evil intentions. But rosy motives don't provide immunity from what has repeatedly been revealed to be Google's naive world view (particularly toward privacy -- and some would argue -- copyright issues) and the ways in which their vast machine could someday become an instrument of genuine repression despite Google's best intentions today.

Something to think about, at least.


Posted by Lauren at December 16, 2004 12:14 PM | Permalink
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