There’s an urban myth that states: A frog thrown in water hot enough to be lethal will leap out and live to leap again another day. But a frog put in regular water that is slowly heated will remain blissfully unawares and hang around until … wait for it … he croaks.
Truth be told, I’ve been feeling a lot like the protagonist, our hero, The Frog. And the nemesis, the hot water? Our very own beloved Google.
As time went by I found myself in “hot water” more and more often. First Google offered to turn my bread into toast. Then it offered to butter that toast. Now all of the sudden it is picking out the jams and even puts it in my mouth and chews for me.
All I have to do is swallow. Isn’t that convenient?
Lately, though, I’ve been wondering just how much more I can swallow? And do I really want an answer to that question? I mean, just how much more Google do I need in my life?
Speaking of myths, here’s one for you that you may not have heard:
Google’s Corporate Motto:
Do no evil.
So elegant in it’s simplicity. So unlike the rest of the corporations out there. So bullshit.
I hate to be a party pooper but guess what? Those three little words have never been an official part of the Google lexicon, not that they don’t mind you believing that it is. If you want to believe in Santa Claus and the tooth fairy, I’m sure they don’t mind that, either.
According to Wikipedia, the world famous phrase “do no evil” is an informal motto or slogan of Google.
Make no mistake about it. Let me be clear. Wikipedia says: [t]he official corporate philosophy of Google does not contain the words “Don’t be evil …”
Yes, I gleefully admit I took that quote a bit out of context (source), and I’m more than happy to fill in the missing bits. Where did the belief come from that “do not evil” was Google’s mission statement?
- The words “Don’t be evil” were used in Google’s 2004 IPO prospectus in a letter from Larry Page and Sergey Brin.
- The sixth point of the 10-point corporate philosophy of Google says “You can make money without doing evil.” (Source: Google.com)
It’s like the latest flavor of furniture polish claiming to be “new and improved” or a cracker described as “premium.” It essentially has no meaning.
So, as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t hold water.
Let’s put it this way. If Google had a clear choice between making a shitload of money or “do not evil,” which do you think they’d do? This isn’t to say Google is any different than your garden variety for-profit enterprise. That’s just the nature of the beast.
Aside from that, I began to feel a little like that little froggy sitting in the hot tub. Before I knew it Google had immense power over people’s lives, and rather than being content with that, it just seemed to whet the appetite. Suddenly there were maps followed by pictures of our houses (and our cars in the drive). Then Google Maps for the moon. Now, with Google X-Ray Vision, they even want to make Google Maps provide the layout of your favorite bookstore. (“What’s the shortest route to science fiction?”)
What kind of power? For starters, a business high in search results can experience riches beyond avarice. Get dropped from the results or moved down into obscurity? Prepare to kiss your tushy goodbye. It can be game over for your business. And that’s just a single example of one type of power now routinely wielded by just one of Google’s myriad of products.
I admit it is frustrating to be in the grocery store and have no idea where something is. “Where the hell are the bloody olives?” Apparently olives are not vegetables because they sure as ain’t in the vegetable aisle. Then along comes Google Grocery Shopping. “Olives are located in the condiments aisle, and, by the way, here are 500 advertisers who want you to know about these olive-related opportunities.” Without Google Grocery Shopping what the hell would I have to do? Look for the damn things myself?
By default, Google knows everything I’ve ever searched for. They know this because, obviously, I had to use the Google website to do the Google search. And rather than keeping that information for 30 days or even 90 days because it might theoretically be useful in some way, and then letting it expire, they decided to go a different way. They decided it was their duty to keep it … forever. Do they do this to protect and serve? Or because it might be valuable someday. Perhaps in a new product called Google Blackmail?
What would your spouse think if they could see everything you ever searched for? How about people in your church? Bosses and people at work? In this era of being hated for your political party or your opinion about a particular social issue do you think everyone would want to do good with that knowledge? Why does it even need to be kept? Could you survive such scrutiny and how helpless would you feel if something like this happened outside of your personal control and without your consent?
With each new Google product I voluntarily signed up for, I gradually became aware that I was frog tartare well on my way to being frog fajitas.
The highway to Google Hell is paved with Good Google Intentions ™.
In addition to everything I’ve ever searched, Google also has archived copies of all my emails. It knows virtually all my passwords. (Even for non-Google services if I ever had my password emailed to me.) It keeps an address book of everyone I know. It know my financial history, my credit cards, pin numbers, and more. They know what videos I watch. They know which videos I watch all the way and which ones I abort early. They have access to my spreadsheets and documents. They know my personal calendar. And with Google Plus they know more about my social life than ever.
Ever taken one of those quizzes consisting of a few simple questions. With only 20 questions you can learn an awful lot about you. And Google has the equivalent of a million questions about you. They probably know you better than you know yourself.
Good God, they even have some of my childlike posts from the old “usenet” that existed years before Google was even born. This shit is nuts. Their appetite for information about me is insatiable.
Of course there has been hubbub as Google’s policies have evolved. Many see the boogeyman. Like earlier this year when Google consolidated their policies for our “convenience.” Sure the legalese in their TOS sounds scary to the layman, like me, but Google says, “Don’t worry about it. Trust us. We do it all for you. Remember, we’re the ones with the unofficial ‘do no evil’ thingy.”
At some point in the last few years Google became, bar none, the #1 source for news in my life. It seemed innocuous at the time. Their little automated algorithms and nanobots simply culled the web and presented news based on what was happening based on some sort of level of interest that they calculated. But then they decided that because they could do a thing that meant they should do the thing.
Suddenly my search results were different from those shown to everyone else. That’s because they were customizing the results based on what they thought were best for me. No longer was it purely my decision. They were going to help me by deciding what I would be shown. And then they did the same thing with their news collating service. Do I tend to see the world a certain way? Sure I do. And Google is there to do their part to make damn sure it stays that way. At least if they have anything to say about.
I guess this all boils (heh) down to: Just how friggin’ lazy can I be? And, in the name of that laziness, who much power over my own life information am I willing to hand over on a silver platter to a friggin’ for-profit corporation.
There have been warning signs, too. Recently a Google engineer reportedly wrote software that would collect “sensitive personal information” about people without their knowledge. Google’s response? “We didn’t violate wiretapping laws.” (That doesn’t have exactly the same ring to it that “Do no evil” does, eh?) Source: Washington Post.
Enough is enough. This frog still has his legs. It’s not that I think Google has done me wrong. It’s that I think, inevitably, they will do me wrong. At some point in the future it will happen. Maybe it will be a greedy corporate decision. Maybe it will be a laptop inadvertently left out in the sun. Maybe it will be an accident caused by some sort of programming bug. Maybe some hackers will steal some data and publish it just for jollies. Who knows?
I do know this. Absolute power will corrupt. The decisions that get made will teeter-totter away from “do no evil” to “Is this good for the company?” (Classic Bill Lumbgergh.) As the data increases in value the temptation will increase exponentially.
It’s nothing personal, Google. I’m just beginning to feel the water getting a little too warm for my taste. It’s time for this relationship to end. I’m going to ride off into the sunset. Please don’t bother to document my journey.
Do No Google
So, I’ve come up with my own motto and I’ve made it official. I call it “Do No Google.” It’s time for a Google Divorce. Call it a Google 12-step plan if you will.
In the world of finance experts often advise people to diversify. Do not put all the eggs in one basket. Why not take the same point of view as our privacy exposure is concerned? The sharing of our private information should be based on the principle of least privilege which states:
Every program and every privileged user of the system should operate using the least amount of privilege necessary to complete the job.
– Jerome Slatzer (Source)
1. Take back my email: I have my own domain name. Why not use it? There’s no real reason I need to run all of my personal emails through Google. They can’t make copies in perpetuity of my emails if the emails never travel through Gmail servers.
2. Go elsewhere for search: Google is not the only game in town. I can diversify to confuse and confound. Don’t let all of my internet curiosity puddle up in one place. (That’s how hot water gets started.)
3. Pee on The Cloud: This is also known as Cloud Seedy. Keep my documents on my hard drive. Period. I have not signed up for the latest technological orgasm known as Google Drive. That’s one less thing I have to undo. The legalese for Google Drive states (my emphasis added): “When you upload or otherwise submit content to our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes that we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content.” What companies does Google “work with?” And, if they add a new partner tomorrow, will they ask your permission first? Maybe the people they’ll work with tomorrow are your mortal enemies of today.
4. Manage my own calendar: I don’t need Google’s help to know where to go and when. Google is not my mommy.
5. Find my own news: The Google News aggregator is pretty neat. But how do I really know what kind of mind fuck is being done to me? From now on I’m going to pick my own news sources and go there directly. This will have the bonus effect of supporting real journalism, a lost art and one under threat if you ask me. Google doesn’t do actual journalism. It just steals the thunder from those who do. So I’m bookmarking sources like PBS, The Daily Show, The New York Times, the Washington Post, The Chicago Sun, Los Angeles Times, and FOX News. I’m going to control my own filter and get opposing points of view in my own way.
That’s not 12 steps, but you get the point. I’ll probably think of more ways as this grand experiment gets underway. Maybe I’ll get a film crew to follow me around as I attempt to go 30 days without Google. We’ll then make a movie about the experience called Googlesize Me.