If you do a Google search about how much information Google really controls, there’s a little bit of hyperbole (from users) out there. There’s a litany of searches like ‘Google wants to own your mind‘, ‘Google wants to control you’. There’s also a ‘Google wants to teach computers regret’ which is just creepy, really.
Those living in fear of a barcode on their psyche have been prolific with their concerns, no doubt about it. But they’re not totally barking up the wrong tree. Just ask Google. Its own mission statement says this: “Google’s mission is to organize the world‘s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
Luckily, its motto is ‘don’t be evil’. Right guys?
What does Google know?
That ‘information’ isn’t just in all the books ever written (one Google project is to digitise most of the books in the world – eventually – and place them online, making them searchable for everyone). And it isn’t just the information from businesses like where they’re located or what their number is. It’s also your information. Your name, where you like to shop, what you like to buy, who you talk to, what you talk about, what your favourite colour is, what foods you like. Why you think dogs are better than cats. The fact that one word you keep spelling wrong is ‘rhythm’.
It started with Google search itself. Think about it. I’ve Googled things I would never tell anyone in my life. Private things, in the hope that there were answers out there in the wide, blue, binary yonder. But I did tell someone. I told Google. And now they know that I didn’t know what a mucus plug was.
It knows more about me than my own family does.
Information is the new gold
And you just know that information is valuable. More valuable than some natural resources. Google is worth about $111 billion and most of their users across their various programs have never paid them a cent. My Google searches are free, my Google mail is free, the Android operating system on 100 million phones is free. Google Chrome the web browser is free. Free, free, free.
The only company in the world worth more is Apple ($153 billion), which sells hardware for the most part. Google sells you.
Oh, and now there’s Google+. What, you thought they wanted to give you a place to hang out, out of the kindness of their multi-coloured hearts?
Google needs to know more about you
Not quite. As debate raged about the need for people like you and me to use their real names online, Google admitted in an interview that Google+ was primarily an ‘identity service’ that required real people. Vice President Eric Schmidt said:
“If you think about it, the Internet would be better if we had an accurate notion that you were a real person as opposed to a dog, or a fake person, or a spammer or what have you… So if we knew that it was a real person, then we could sort of hold them accountable, we could check them, we could give them things, we could you know bill them, you know we could have credit cards and so forth.”
Google+ has a ‘real name only’ policy because it needs to know who you are, as a spoke in its other operations. Why? Because Facebook does. Right now, Facebook has some 750 million users worldwide who use their accounts to log-in to websites across the full gamut of what the Internet offers. And every time a user ‘likes’ something … well, they know what you like. Ka-ching.
They’re building digital portraits of hundreds of millions of people and the minutiae of your daily interactions is the icing on the cake. Admit it: you’ve been served ads in the past and been floored by how much information they have. So much so that it almost seems like magic. But it’s just a very clever algorithm which, like a snowball, grows more powerful and precise as information is added.