October 11, 2007

Does Google know too much about us? - By Michael Agger - Slate Magazine

This is a worthwhile article detailing the soft cage* you have constructed around yourself in your google searches.

*Soft Cage being the name of a worthwhile book on our surveillance society that Undismayed recommends that you read, along with No Place to Hide, which we have discussed many times, of course

Does Google know too much about us? - By Michael Agger - Slate Magazine:

When I called Daniel Brandt, Google's most persistent and dedicated critic, the conversation was a lot like discussing the grassy knoll circa 1966. He's based in Texas, drops the word spook a lot, and runs a site called Google Watch, which, with its low-res gifs and multicolored links, has the feel of a mimeographed 'zine. On the phone, he's quick with dates and exasperated pronouncements. "The high-tech press has been kowtowing to the Google line for the last seven years," he opined. "There are a lot of meaningless things about the Google work environment. You can bring your dog to work. The name is funny-sounding and cute. But no one pays attention to the arrogance of the company."

Brandt first encountered that arrogance in 2002 when he discovered that the Google cookie—a file they put on your computer to identify your browser—wasn't set to expire until 2038. (It now expires in two years but renews itself whenever you use a Google site.) Brandt's main strike against Google is really a belief that it's acquiring information that is "too delicious" to keep under wraps. When we search, "we reveal what our interests are and what our intentions are. What we might be doing tomorrow. That's the No. 1 thing spooks want to know about you." While there is no evidence that Google turns over information to the FBI or the NSA, the value of what Google gathers, Brandt holds, is simply too alluring to keep away from the government's eyes.

Brandt also has a more direct complaint: "Google puts a lot of crap on the Web." He points to the search results, which used to be a simple list of sites and now have paid-for "sponsored links" at the top: "Ninety-five percent of people don't know the difference between a sponsored link and a normal search result." In response, Brandt created a site called Scroogle, which allows you to query Google anonymously and returns search results without ads or other Google ad-ons. Brandt also has an interesting take on how Google props up Wikipedia as a premier information source, since more than 50 percent of Wikipedia's traffic comes from Google searches. If you wish to enter further into Brandt's matrix, read about how he uncovered a likely MI-5 agent operating on Wikipedia under the alias Slimvirgin. The winding road starts here.

Whether or not you agree with Brandt or other privacy watchdogs, they outline the bargain we've entered into with Google. There's a video on YouTube called "Web 2.0 … The Machine Is Us/ing Us" that illustrates (to a pleasing soundtrack) the idea that our links, searches, and clicking around teach the search engines our preferences, habits, and values. By Googling, we are supplying the company data with which to parse and analyze us. The resulting profile has a huge value for advertisers, especially as more of us ignore mass culture in favor of our online microclimates. The "price" that we pay for Google's free services is to present ourselves as better targets for niche marketing.

So what? you might ask. Think back to the supposedly anonymous search logs released by AOL last year, which were quickly linked to individual users.

1 comment:

ABANANA said...

You can use Scroogle to get Google's results without the tracking.