We all know and love? Google, don't we? They are great, they're so pervasive now they just blend into the background. The services they offer, the great tools, the free products their research (Hadoop & Cassandra thanks you)...

But what if... Google turned evil...consumer evil.<!-- more --> Slight digression: My personal opinion is that they can be a (like all other corporations their size) aggressive in their business practices. Obviously this is from an outside view and without any facts to back it up. Mainly based on the observation that sometimes, because of their size they seem to step into an industry, being good at what they do they muscle out smaller businesses. In one sense it works out great for consumers like myself because they tend to offer things cheaper or even free but I imagine many small businesses have gone upside down because of this. Much like Amazon has done in retail...but that's another story (Can you imagine doing shopping anywhere else?).

Now back to the Google turns consumer evil idea... I use Chrome ~60% of the day. My Galaxy S3 ~2% GMail 5% Google Search 10% Other Google products ~3%

That is a staggering 80% of the time I spend on the PC being spent interacting with a Google product in one way shape or form... All that data! All that juicy, precious data! Google has my full name, address, bank and credit card details. It knows where I travel to, when I travel to where. How long I stay, sometimes who I am with. It knows my spending habits, what I eat or don't (I think).

It knows my preferences...

People make a big deal about Facebook and privacy but I am not a big Facebook fan, I spend less than 10 minutes a day in total using Facebook and sometimes goes days or even weeks without using it. And I hardly ever use G+...also another story...


According to Wikipedia:

"Privacy is the ability of an individual or group to seclude themselves or information about themselves and thereby reveal themselves selectively. The boundaries and content of what is considered private differ among cultures and individuals, but share basic common themes. Privacy is sometimes related to anonymity, the wish to remain unnoticed or unidentified in the public realm. When something is private to a person, it usually means there is something within them that is considered inherently special or personally sensitive. The degree to which private information is exposed therefore depends on how the public will receive this information, which differs between places and over time. Privacy partially intersects security, including for instance the concepts of appropriate use, as well as protection of information. Privacy may also take the form of bodily integrity."

...long but needed.

I believe I am a very private person. I don't like the idea of every last detail of my private life being known by every Tom,Dick and Harry. In fact, I go to great lengths to try to retain what little privacy I have left. The point of this post however is deciding just what the hell privacy really means today.

It clearly differs from person to person but here is my take on it. If I want to achieve something, buy an App in Google play for e.g. then I must be willing to provide personal data. In fact just setting up an Android phone requires quite a lot of personal information. The question is, is that information really private in the first place?

In this day and age, probably not. I have made a point of creating a small personal brand, check it Google "zcourts". As of this moment every hit on Google links to something I have done, contributed to etc. While not everyone has done this, the same concept applies, knowing a small amount of information about a person, you can often discover a lot of personal information. From that Google search, you can find my age, e-mail, location etc... Information that I willingly put out there. Given a person's e-mail or name you can typically discover perhaps more information than they'd like.

Going back to this App in Google play, the only really "private" information I provide is my card details. Even that is not so private. It can't be, you share it with every company you've used it with, they share it with god knows who...

The Critics

The out cry often headlining papers is "Facebook [insert crap here] privacy". Yes Facebook's privacy settings is extremely complicated for the trivial purpose they serve. Yes they've had their share of blunders. NO you agreed, implicitly or not to give them your data.

You agreed when you signed up. You agree every 5 seconds you post a video of the same cat. You agreed when you dodged work and boasted about it. You agreed, you agreed, you agreed.

The reality

Facebook & Google provides "free" services. Ladies and gentlemen, like the word "privacy" the definition of free has morphed as our society changed. A business is a business, whether it provides a free or paid product. That often means it needs to make money to survive. That in turn means, if you're not buying a product, YOU ARE THE PRODUCT. Get used to it and get over it. You are not being forced to used these "free" services. They make your life easier though don't they? Think hard about it, could you survive without all these wonderful "free" services you've come to love and hate?

There are industries, massive industries (most recently "Big Data") that are built on knowing more about you. The more companies know, often the better the services they can provide, the more the lines between what is private and what isn't blurs.

Back in the days of MSN you could have an IM conversation with a friend and it wouldn't have come to mind that you're feeding data to Microsoft. You spoke about what you had for dinner, your hair, your cat! All was well, they got the data, probably made good use (for them) of it and life went on. Then suddenly all this "social" malarkey became hyped and oop, now we all care about privacy. Privacy we never had...

That last statement is important. "Privacy we never had", do you, like myself, live in the UK? Did you know the average person here is caught on CCTV some 300 times a day? Do you care? Why or why not? There are many other cases I can think of but that'll be too much detail and I'll miss the point I'm trying to make, which is that: Privacy is nothing more than an illusionary concept. I have heard people say they don't care about being caught on camera because the government does it for their (the person not the gov) protection, or that the government will not abuse the data they have on them because they have to respect their human right to privacy etc...

The illusion of privacy seems to stem from who we portray as being responsible authority  figures/organizations. I'm no researcher or whatever, this is just an observation I've made. For e.g. I feel more comfortable with Google having that mass of data on me than I do about Facebook having it. Even more so for MicroSoft... A good example to demonstrate is when I install a product from any of these companies. Often they ask to send "anonymous"  usage data to help improve the product. I always opt in to allow Google's products to do it but always disable it for MicroSoft.

So, why would I do that? If I am as "private" as I claim to be, why give anyone my usage pattern? One theory is that of branding, which I see as yet again another illusion. MicroSoft's brand is so stained and as young as Facebook is theirs is just as bad. But Google isn't as bad...

Can you see what just happened there? Relate those last few sentences of my saying Google isn't so bad so they can have the data to the previous section where I've observed others saying the Government isn't so bad so it isn't a problem for them to have the CCTV footages...illusion.

Now, if Google wanted to get me...it would take a few clicks perhaps. Nothing more. But, just how could Google get me? The government has just about as much data on me, if they wanted to get me it's the same thing isn't it?

Choice & accountability

We choose to use Google's, Facebook's and all these other services. The data they collect can in most cases be controlled or limited. We as human beings find it so hard to hold ourselves accountable for our actions, as soon as a noisy privacy group yells wolf we say "me too". It is not Facebook's fault you were drunk and got into trouble, it is not Facebook's fault you lost your job. It is not Google's fault the world knows your secrets, it is not Google's fault you appear less employable.

The data Google has on me makes my experience with their products great. But I have selectively chosen what products I use, what information I give (when I get the choice) and when & where that information can be collected. Instead of bashing the world and making a scene, take control of what information gets out there about you! The reality is, YOU are held accountable for what is out there, whether you want to sugar coat it or not. You made the choice, you should be held accountable, it is your fault! Not Facebook's, not Google's.

Don't believe you have control over it? You re-call my personal brand above? I have a girl friend, I bet you can't find out what goes on in our relationship by Googling. I bet you can't find out what I like to do outside of tech related stuff.

Be proactive about your "privacy", don't be the annoying brat who rants on Twitter about how you got fired because of Facebook. Take charge of your data! Just be wary that even when proactive, if someone like Google wanted to get you...they could. Its not about keeping secrets from the world, its about maintaining an acceptable level of publicity.