This morning I did as I usually do several times a day—I went to Google to perform an Internet search.  This time the front page informed me that Google is now celebrating its ninth birthday.

I'm not sure what to think about that.

Google's mission is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful. 

If you think about that too much, you can find yourself ranking it among the world's most terrifying statements.  Not that it in any way diminishes the value Google and other search engines have added to our lives.  But whether for good or for ill, the Internet and Google have wrought radical changes.  I'm old enough for nine years to seem but an instant, and find it hard to believe the pre-Google world was less than a decade ago.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, September 27, 2007 at 10:05 am | Edit
Permalink | Read 1541 times
Category Computing: [first] [previous] [next] [newest] Random Musings: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

Well that's their mission. If you gotta problem with it, what are you gonna do about it?

Posted by Mike on Sunday, September 30, 2007 at 6:35 pm

I'm ignoring some wise advice not to respond to this comment, and my natural inclination to respond in kind with "What d'ya suggest?" for two reasons: (1) I'm assured by a reliable source that "Mike" is a real person with a legitimate question, and (2) I have an answer that was probably going to be a blog post eventually anyway.

I think we need to realize that privacy, in the usual sense of the word, is dead or nearly so. At first I consoled myself with signal to noise ratio: There may have been too much information about me and my family available on the Internet, but it was a small speck awash in a great ocean of data, and far too uninteresting for anyone to bother with.

Enter Google. They have done the work, and now even the most insignificant, boring detail is readily available. So much for privacy-by-obscurity.

We can fight the new world, or we can use it to our benefit. I do a little of both. It was Heather and Jon's willingness to spread the details of their life before the world, plus the realization -- again thanks to them -- that sometimes the most intimate, painful details of our lives will be thus spread abroad whether we will or no, that made me willing to embrace blog writing. That and the fact that I really like to write, and a writer likes an audience, and I realized that my previously favorite form of expression -- writing letters to the editor -- now also involves having my writings and full name published on the Internet because so many print publications have web editions as well.

So, to answer the question, what I'm going to do about it is attempt to use it to my benefit, and to live a "sober, righteous, and godly life" so that when light inescapable pours into my life, I won't have as much need of the darkness.

Posted by SursumCorda on Monday, October 01, 2007 at 10:47 am

Assuming that you're the one Jon said actually cares about privacy, I think it's sad that you've decided to give up any privacy without IMO thinking clearly about how you could benefit from it.

Posted by Mike on Monday, October 01, 2007 at 12:11 pm

Let me ask you this, why does google's mission statement "terrify" you so, if you think about it too much?

Posted by Mike on Monday, October 01, 2007 at 12:25 pm

One reason I stated above -- that obscurity is no longer a refuge. But more than that, ready access to information, like most tools, can do both great good and terrible evil. The sharpened steel that saves lives also takes them. Then there's the whole issue of the value of the information -- how to sift the true from the false from the irrelevant -- and whether or not Maine really has anything to say to Texas.

As Jon would tell you, I have my privacy concerns. But "the moving finger writes, and having writ, moves on." Change happens. We can use it, or refuse it. What are your suggestions for refusing it, besides posting as anonymously as possible?

Posted by SursumCorda on Monday, October 01, 2007 at 1:38 pm

Well obscurity is still a refuge, but supposing it wasn't, why would *that* bother you. You still haven't told me from what you feel you need refuge, so I can't make helpful suggestions to you.

Posted by Mike on Monday, October 01, 2007 at 2:40 pm

Sorry, I worded the question wrong. I meant what are you doing about privacy, since you've obviously thought a lot about it. Or, since as a private individual you are probably reluctant to talk about what you, yourself, are doing, what are your general thoughts on the lack of privacy in modern life and what might be done to combat it?

Posted by SursumCorda on Monday, October 01, 2007 at 3:05 pm

It's your blog so I want to talk about your concerns, not mine.

One general thought I have is that I think people are foolish to put illustrated logs of their entire life, and the lives of their children who don't even have the ability to consent to such a thing, up for public consumption. Indexable and cacheable by google and others too.

Posted by Mike on Monday, October 01, 2007 at 3:20 pm

Yep, there are risks to that. But there are also benefits, especially to grandparents. :) The question, of course, is do the benefits outweigh the risks.

That, of course, is not limited to the Internet. Birth choices, vaccination choices, educational choices, everything from the use of sunscreen to whether or not we allow them to play in the front yard or climb trees -- we are always making decisions that affect our children without their consent. Parenthood is nothing if not a series of risk/benefit calculations. Perhaps life is, too.

Thanks, by the way, for the discussion!

Posted by SursumCorda on Monday, October 01, 2007 at 3:50 pm

Well you could have all the benefits while greatly reducing the risks if you simply required a login before someone could see your blog.

Still waiting to hear specific examples of why you think google's mission statement is at all "terrifying" ..... :-D

Posted by Mike on Monday, October 01, 2007 at 3:55 pm

I don't know about plausible scenarios, but how about his worst-case one: Google in fact organizes "all the world's information," and then is subpoenaed by a corrupt government. It doesn't take an Orwellian or even Bradburyan flight of fancy to envision a situation in which something we believe in becomes unprotected by law, and if so, there's no need for an omnipresent government as long as the government has access to omnipresent data.

Like many people, I have mixed feelings about Google. A much more immediate concern than the admittedly unlikely one above is that Google is a Microsoft in sheep's clothing--that they are in fact swiftly becoming a monopoly, and simply put a friendlier face on it. But on the other hand, they have so darn many really wonderful innovations. Gmail really is the best thing to happen to email since email. And have you heard of Google 411? Call 1-800-GOOG411, say the name of the city and the name of a business listing, and it'll connect you. No more 411 charges!

Posted by Andy Bonner on Monday, October 01, 2007 at 11:44 pm

..... there's no need for an omnipresent government as long as the government has access to omnipresent data ......

An excellent way of putting it.

But what this boils down to is, do you care if an electronic profile of all your purchases, communications, etc. is assembled and fairly accessible to any significant organization? If so, why and what do you plan to do about it? All you guys are talking about is the extent of google's search presence and the plausibility of their malfeasance. What you should be doing IMO is 1) assuming that they are indexing and caching everything you let them and 2) thinking about what you'd rather they not be indexing and caching and why.

To help you get started, I'll suggest to you that if google becomes sufficiently successful at its mission statement, you avidly blog about your children, and they have issues, even alledged issues with their health, they might find it rather difficult to find permanent employment or various sorts of insurance.

More generally, if you're gonna post anything in a blog under your own name, you should visualize it being attached to any application you ever fill out, and to those of your children.

The above is assuming of course that only the information you explicitly make public is what's available to google's corporate users.

Posted by Mike on Tuesday, October 02, 2007 at 1:43 am

This guy writes some good points about this topic:

The Cost of Blogging.

I had similar thoughts when I found out that certain CMU newsgroups were made public, after being published only inside CMU at the start.

Posted by Jon Daley on Wednesday, October 24, 2007 at 11:37 pm

That article scared me. I wonder if I should put my stuff under password protection and ask people to email me for the password. I write personal stuff because that's what family wants to know.

Posted by IrishOboe on Monday, October 29, 2007 at 3:52 pm

I've thought about that -- password protection, that is. My first objection was that you want random friends to be able to find you, and hiding your blog would stop that -- but you could have a general, unprotected page for random searchers to find, and a way for those interested to request to be allowed in.

My second objection is from Li'l Writer Guy, who says, "Hey, what's the point of writing if you don't want an audience?" I stopped being so careful of using my name online when I realized that newspapers and magazines were posting their Letters to the Editor , so may name and opinions were already out there.

It's obvious I've never been hungry or desperate for a job when I say that if any prospective employer turned me down because of my posted opinions, that would probably be a good thing, because we would be an obvious mismatch and both of us would end up unhappy.

I would be more concerned about the matter of my grandchildren if it weren't for the fact that their parents talk more about them than I do.

Posted by SursumCorda on Monday, October 29, 2007 at 8:26 pm