Monday, December 21, 2009

The Days of Christmas - Number 9 - Google Me Dead!

I was just doing some run-of-the-mill tasks in my digital life and I stopped short: how fundamental is Google to the way I run my digital life? How much does Google know about me? How ubiquitous is Google?
The answers to those questions are really something to make you pause for thought. Hands up if you have never used Google or any of its services. I bet there isn't a single hand up, in fact there can't be - you are reading this blog by kind favour of Google, they offer the service that I use.
My guess is that Google "knows" more about you than any other organisation or person in the whole world (please read the NB at the bottom of this post). They have your email running through their systems, they have your thoughts on their blogging system, they "know" what you search for; if you use Latitude they "know" where you are; if you use Google maps on a GPS equipped device, they "know" where you are...
There is another side to this though. Google is pretty fundamental to my digital life:
  • If you want to read RSS on the iPhone, in my view the simplest way is to manage your RSS feeds in Google Reader and read them on the iPhone in something like Newsstand. That's what I do and it's fast and simple. But of course Google "know" what RSS feeds I subscribe to;
  • The quickest way to search the web on the iPhone is with the Google iPhone app. I use it every day, and I like the way it also gives me direct access to Google apps. But you know the tagline here...;
  • Here's one for the pilots. Do you want a simple, cheap (free), flight tracking app for your iPhone? As long as you are in mobile range Google Latitude does that for you. You can make your friends aware of your exact location...and Google of course;
  • Google Calendar is the best way of managing shared calendars, if like me you don't have a corporate network and calendar server. The functionality is good and the iPhone calendar app allows you to synchronise direct. Now they "know" what I'm doing and when and probably with who!!
  • The best thing about Gmail is IMAP. That makes life so simple if you access your mail from multiple devices. It keeps everything nicely synced and once you've read an item in one place, every other place knows its been read. Very nice...and a great reason to let Google "know" what you are saying to who;
  • Google Maps is just about the most used app on my iPhone. Where's a particular shop, show me a picture of the front door of that address, show me the way to go home, show me the traffic on the way...But in a way it's the most worrying. Do I want a picture of my front door on the internet for all to see?
That's just a sample but you get the idea, there's also Earth, and YouTube that I use a bit.
So my bottom line is that Google makes my life a hell of a lot easier than it might otherwise be. I do have genuine concerns however about the information that I "give" to Google in return. It's the same old story. Your concern about that is going to be directly related to your view of Google. If you see them as a benign force for good, then you probably aren't concerned that they "know" about you. If you see them as like any other corporate titan then you are probably substantially more concerned.

NB: Please be aware that I am NOT suggesting that Google pries into your email, your search history or any other information about you. Nor am I suggesting that they do anything improper with the information which flows through their systems. I simply don't know what if anything they do with that data. My point is that all of this information flows through their systems and is capable of being used in a way that you may not care for.

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