This is about Eric Schmidt's comments on Google's future in personalized searches and the outcry around it. It is a little bit delayed, I know.
Like any of us are private today. You can find me on MySpace and follow my friendlists to pictures of my sisters kissing their boyfriends. Do you think we live in a private kind of world? Nearly every page I surf to I tag somewhere and everyone has a tracking of where I've been in this web of the world. We put our family photos up on Flickr for complete strangers to sit back and enjoy, in whatever way they happen to enjoy them. We are not private kind of people, regardless of what we might think. Privacy is both an illusion and a pain in the ass. Now, before you call me a moron, a push over, or a sell out, just bare with me for a moment and keep reading.
We Are Not Private PeopleOrwell warned us and boy are we scared as hell. Big Brother, Echelon, unauthorized wire tapping, and a whole host of other threats to our privacy are out there. Never do I discount that there are things out there misusing information about us, both that which is public and which is private. However, what constitutes appropriate and not in dealing with the ocean of data these organizations have to work with is obviously a completely uneaten cake. These are only the threats we impose on ourselves.
Privacy is increasingly a hindrance to profitability, so any time companies can make more money by violating your privacy, they may justify it. The thing is, most of the time we probably don't even notice it. When is the last time you read a EULA before clicking agree? Hell, we don't even read things we actually sign with our own hands. I might call for our uprising to actually read these and refuse agreeing to that which we do not agree with. I will not make this advice, because I believe firmly we will only harm ourselves by disagreeing in over-reaching, unfounded, fear-driven ways. Of course, there are things we should watch out for, but, more often than not, I think we'll do better to back off on our worries a bit.
Despite the outcry we think we create about these issues, convenience is more important than anything else in our lives. I'll give out my credit card number to every store I shop at instead of taking the time to count cash. I toss it around to multiple online services and stores, and that surely has its risk, but it also has its reward. In my lifetime I can expect some level of inappropriate use of those accounts. I do not doubt that someone, at some time, will charge something to my account that I did not approve of. However, the amounts that could be is worth it. When you factor in that I'll almost definitely get the cash back from my bank, its a pale thing to pay for the convenience and time savings I get from passing the number around in the first place. Much in the same way, we don't stop using e-mail just because spam is a huge problem. It wastes our time, and time is money, so it effectively takes our money, but can't do so to the degree that the value in the medium is lost.
This doesn't even bring into the picture all the multitude of ways we rip down the walls between ourselves and give privacy a swift kick in the face. Does MySpace not tell us something about how private people want to be? They don't.
We Are Public PeopleThe droves of teenagers and, yes, adults on MySpace, Facebook, and other social sites is both proof we like publicity and slowly shifting what care we have about privacy into the history books. We'll tell the world everything about ourselves on our blogs. More and more teenagers today write in their MySpace journals for everyone to read about the same things they would scribe into a private journal under their mattress just a decade ago. When we tell the world our secret fears, how offended are we when a company remembers we bought a pair of Nike sneakers?
I surf the web for pornography. See? Publicity, transparency, and general openness are taking over. No more seedy stores behind fences as we migrate openly, everything becomes public and acceptance rises as a result. What we would be embarrassed of doing privately a few years ago we just laugh about today, because the open availability changes the public perception of acceptability of acts. As individuals we are part of a huge social world and only when we embrace connecting to that society in as many ways and as intimately as possible are we now able to feel like we're a part of it. As that connectedness sky rockets, the barriers between people and their fears of one another break down. Don't talk to strangers? Soon there will be no strangers.
Beyond the personal we find repeatedly that openness serves financial and political needs. We force large companies to publish their finances, and politicians who blog are more connected to their supporters. Today we can keep tabs on the governing bodies in near real time, when in the past we wouldn't know what new laws were enacted until we were arrested for breaking them. Fortune 500 companies open their private conversation into blogs and reveal to the world what was closely guarded in their past. Can we accept the benefits of opening us those who run our world when we ourselves pretend we still want to hide behind a curtain? What improves the organization will improve the individual.
New Results, Old InformationDoes Google really want to take any more information than we already have? What are we pouring into their systems already, telling them our deepest desires and letting them hold onto every word we speak? Google knows when I order a pizza, they could even be recording the calls for all I know because i don't dial numbers, they do it for me. Every page I come across is recorded. Every one of them.
People complained when Google wanted to provide context targeted advertising in GMail, because of concerns about them looking at our sensitive information in the email. We had no problem with them having the information, but freak when they use it without any human eyes. Do you see the disconnect there? "Here, corporation," we say, "take all this personal information about me and hold on tight." But the minute they want something in return, that benefits us, we pretend to care. That tells me we have complaints only because we feel we must, not because we genuinely care. If we did, we wouldn't want the information given in the first place.
I really think we care less about it than we let on. I don't think we should worry so much. We need openness from them, but we can return it with just the same. Everyone wins. We get awesome services and they get the money to provide them.