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These days all the young kids love Google. All the older kids too actually. Heck, pretty much everybody loves Google. I don’t.

A little bit of (my own) history

Sure, I used Google for years. Started somewhere in 1999, after having been a happy AltaVista user. At the time, there were no doubts Google had made some major breakthroughs in search. So of course I switched to Google. And then, there was this other nice side to it: it was the new kid on the block, a nice little company, very far from any corporate behemoth.

Nowadays however, it is in my view the most dangerous corporation on the planet, and definitely much worse than any corporate behemoth I might have worried about in the late 90’s or early 2000’s. And it is absolutely adored by everyone, with the most vocal lovers being people who probably don’t even recall a time before Google.

What does Google do exactly?

Google does search, obviously. It also, and this is not an exhaustive list:

  • Provides hosted email (Gmail)
  • Provides maps & geolocalisation (Google maps)
  • Provides hosted RSS feed management (Google Reader)
  • Provides an operating system (Android)
  • Provides a web browser (Chrome)
  • Provides an office productivity suite (Google docs)

A comparison point

Now, the fact a company provides lots of services is not a bad thing of course. Rather the contrary. The issue is with what puts Google apart from most other players in the same markets. I’ll contrast with Microsoft here, but the argument holds when contrasting with many other companies.

You see, a universal fact about companies is that they want your money – and there’s certainly nothing objectionable to that. What makes companies different from one another, is how they seek to get your money.

Microsoft is interested in your workflow (I see raised eyebrows). The way Microsoft wants to make itself valuable to you, and hence entice you into giving them money, is by defining how you work. What they want, is to make sure that every time you have a task to carry out, you will use (and hopefully pay for) a Microsoft product. Want to use a computer? Here’s Windows for you. Want to write a document or make some calculations? Here’s Office. Email? Outlook/Exchange. Build internal collaboration in your company? SharePoint. Find something? Bing. Play a video game? Xbox.

What matters to Microsoft is what you do. Not exactly the specifics of what you do – they couldn’t care less whether you’re writing internal memos or the next great American novel in MS Word – but how you do it, what tasks are involved.

And then it will monetize those tasks. This can be done directly by making you pay for software, or indirectly. In the indirect method, you get something free, say, internet search. Well, it just so happens that the tight integration of the whole suite of free applications with other paying applications makes said paying applications more attractive.

Never said this monetization of free apps was so effective mind you, but that’s their strategy. They’re interested in your tasks, your workflow.

Back to Google

Now Google provides pretty much the same products and services as Microsoft. So their model is pretty similar, right?

Wrong. Couldn’t be more different.

Google’s revenue comes, nearly exclusively, from advertisement. For all analytical purposes, Google can be seen as an advertisement firm. And ever since the sector came into existence, advertisers have only ever been interested in one thing.

Your data.

Who you are. What you do. Why you do it. How much money that brings you. What books you read. What you like. What you don’t like.

They want to know everything about you.

For those who aren’t following, the reason they want this is to be able to target their ads to you in the most efficient way possible, in order to maximize clicks on the ads, and thus maximize advertising revenue.

It just so happens that Google has all that information on you. After all:

  • It can read you email (Gmail)
  • It knows where you are and where you like to go (Google maps)
  • It knows what you like and are interested in (Google search and Reader)
  • It knows what you do and what data you generate (Google apps)
  • It could know how much relative time you spend on any task (Android)

 

This is an advertisement’s agency ultimate goal.

It just so happens that this also any totalitarian state’s wet dream come true.

Don’t be evil!

Ah yes, the famous unofficial motto of Google is “don’t be evil”. That should be reassuring, right?

Well, I don’t know about you, but that motto, if anything, makes me worry even more. That somebody in a corporate environment could even consider that a motto speaks volumes. Let me give you an example.

What would you think about one of your kid’s teachers telling you his main goal in his work is “don’t rape the kids”? Would you be reassured? Or very much worried that somebody needs to state the obvious like that to exorcise some inner compulsion?

I feel the same about Google.

The track record

The good news is, as far as I’m aware, Google hasn’t yet launched into massive scale exploitation of the data it has at it’s disposal, nor has it transformed into some evil big brother.

Yet.

There are some worrying trends, and not only based on the sheer amount of data Google has at it’s disposal.

Google has already been actively seeking collaboration with government for years. And not just for nice stuff, either, for war. Yup, all that nifty Google earth technology has already been purposefully adapted for warfare. That means killing people. It doesn’t get much more evil than that in my book.

Google is also keen on collaborating with the NSA. Oh sure, in this case the aim is that the NSA help Google secure it’s network and work against cybercrime, and not that NSA access Google’s data. But as arguably the organisation with the largest wealth of information on people, Google collaborating with a spying agency makes me nervous.

Oh yeah, and by the way, isn’t it just a tad worrying that Google’s data repositories apparently need securing? So these guys have all your data, but can’t protect it? Because, in case you haven’t been paying attention, that’s what triggered the whole China debacle recently. Actually, China deserves a section of it’s own.

The China thing

People are so busy lauding Google’s courage for pulling out of China these days, that they tend to forget what really happened.

In 2006, Google readily complied with Chinese requests to self-censor it’s contents. They did it in a heartbeat.

Now don’t get me wrong, I definitely think it’s better for oppressed people to get some access to information rather than none at all, so in the long run, I believe Google’s move there was for the best. But what I found worrying was Google’s eagerness to go and adapt their “don’t be evil” motto to fit it’s actions. Far from demonstrating they were a principled company, Google showed it’s principles were highly negotiable based on what they felt was needed at a precise moment in time.

Then, recently, their Chinese infrastructure got hacked into. Fearing for their interests, they pulled out of China. If you bought into Google’s spin that this was because they had a change of heart about Chinese censorship, you’re a fool.

This last event is telling in two ways. First, it confirms that Google really doesn’t care about what is evil or not. If providing censored content was less evil than providing none in 2006, this remains so in 2010. So clearly, it’s all about their own interest, and not whatever is evil.

Second, it shows Google is not all that good at securing it’s data. And that’s downright terrifying. Because even if Google doesn’t do anything bad it has with the data it has collected, if this falls into the wrong hands (especially governmental ones), we’re in for some very bad trouble. Think 1984.

In a nutshell

Google has exactly the kind of data necessary to make an Orwellian hell come true. It has proven that it’s corporate culture is anything but principled, and more than willing to cooperate with governments, including for nefarious purposes such as killing people. On top of that, it has proven unable to secure the very sensitive data it has access to.

If despite all this you are still entrusting your data to Google, I guess you really love Big Brother.