What Are You Giving Up to The Big Google?

CROSS-POSTED WITH MY BLOG POST ASSIGNMENT FOR COMM 2450...

I wasn’t surprised by the amount and kinds of information Google has on me. I also wasn’t surprised that Google announced the Dashboard feature, which Google claims is an attempt to be transparent and to give the user “choice and control” over users’ own data. The only thing that surprised me was how long it took. Google Dashboard went live on November 05, 2009, many, many months after Google’s control over the flow of information and advertising has been challenged by users and technology industry analysts.

Google’s attempt to become transparent will benefit users to be sure, but this merely leads na├»ve users (not in the technical sense)—which is, unfortunately, the bulk of its user—to believe in a sense of control, and that the mere presence of this control results in users willing to give up even more information to the Almighty Google. In other words, because users believe they control their own information, it is perceived to be safer to use more of Google’s services and inadvertently provide Google with even more information. “I can quit anytime,” as an addict might say.

I have had a Google Account since the Gmail beta days, with my earliest Google e-mail dating 07/10/2004. Checking my Google Dashboard, I see that Google has a ton of information on me: 2 analytics accounts over 3 website profiles, 152 contacts entries, 1 blog, 2 calendars, 132 documents, 17185 e-mail messages at 3485 MB (47% of the quota). 15 Picasa web albums, 6415 shared items in Google Reader, 321 Gmail Task Items, 112 Google Voice calls, 308 Google Wave messages, and 22542 total Google searches.

Ironically, even though I have much of my digital life embedded and integrated with many of Google services, I am known to be very critical of Google among my circle of friends. I would argue that it is important for us, as users, to know what we are getting ourselves into and what exactly we are blithely handing over to Google on a daily basis. If we agree that the benefits outweigh the risk in both the short and long term, then we can use Google. Google hasn’t been about search since the beginning, but the first thing that comes to mind when people say “Google” is search. Instead, Google is fostering new media for online advertising, whether through e-mail, searches, calendars, blogs, or profiles. Advertising is its cash cow, and there are many ways and services in which Google implements it. We need to understand this, and not just use whatever happens to be popular and free. (Yes, I am a hypocrite.)