I recently met a family friend for dinner, and she and I both have the bad habit of speaking Turklish – an interesting mix of our ethnic Turkish with our adopted English. In fact, we don’t just speak Turklish, we write Turklish. While the ability to change languages on the fly isn’t worth commenting about, a recent round of e-mails in Turklish caused a stir amongst our inbred language community. Look to the right to Google’s list of ads, and you’ll see “Buy Turkish CDs in the US!”, “Get Turkish imported foods online”, and other Turkish advertisements. Now with Google gathering information from Google Talk to build a Google Music site, I have to ask: Is Google going too far to gather information? Who is Google sharing this information with? Does Google know I have a freckle behind my left ear?
I know that others have commented on whether Google is pushing the limits of privacy by scanning its searches, e-mails, and whatnot, but I never felt invaded until I saw these ads in conjunction with this new Google Labs project. Technically, I’m sure it’s nothing more than a mapping of words to a dictionary. Should that alone worry me? No. I’m confident that no person ever reads my e-mail and then gets his Turkish buddy Mehmet to find ads in which I might be interested. That would be an ignorant understanding of how AdWorks functions. In fact, you would be quick to note that participation in Google Music is voluntary, and therefore my privacy is openly invaded through my acquiescence. However, once people have information, what they know, and can find out, about you is no longer in your control. Quick example. Let’s say we scrubbed all of the name/identifier data out of a survey on favorite book. If I can drill down and find out that 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue Washington D.C.’s favorite book is the Koran, then I know a lot about a specific person. Having this data someplace means someone at sometime can learn more about you than you intended.
I don’t think that Google is the danger here. In fact, the world might be a safer place if the biggest threat to our humanity is a flame war over a blog post, which we nerds will happily provide. However, to do business in China, where 1.1 Billion people live, Google has to cooperate with the Chinese government. Do you want extra information about you to be accessible to the Chinese government if you’re the Falun Gong because you shared a piece of information with Google? What about when the United States claims that because of National Security Requirements, they will need access to the data banks of major search engines? If information exists, then someone will want to find out how they can use it. Should Google be collecting this information if it can’t guarantee the independence of how this information is used?
To close, I find it very interesting how willing we all are to share about ourselves in order to create a more open society. Yes, that society is virtual, and people will know all about my fantasy football team without ever knowing about me. However, have we reached a point where sharing information about ourselves exposes us to the fears and chaos of prying governments?