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Thursday, December 2, 2010

Google: The New Big Brother

I am continually amazed how people seem to love and trust Google for all of the email and document needs.  Gmail has been around for quite a while; Google docs for about four years or so.  There are lots of sites and other places to go for information on Google docs so I am not going to cover that here.  Nor am I going to address whether these programs are really any good or not.

The real question for me has always been why use a giant corporations "free" software?  Hopefully everyone would be smart enough to know by now that "free" really isn't free.  Yet people continually pile into these services as if Google is the best thing since sliced bread.

Not surprising for me I came across this article in the WSJ yesterday: "Google Plots Move from Search to Sales".  In the article its revealed that Google is considering a purchase of a company called "Groupon" to "put Google in the position of selling directly to Internet users".

For those that don't know Groupon is system for matching offers to buyers.  The offers are basically coupons for discounts on a wide variety of things to a group.  From groupon's site: "Groupon features a daily deal on the best stuff to do, see, eat, and buy in more than 300 markets and 35 countries, and soon beyond (read: Space)."  The web site allows business to offer a group of customers via the web a specific deal.  Typically the more in the "group" the better the deal so you are encouraged to "share" the deal with others.

The WSJ article claims that Google is considering offering $5.3 billion USD for Groupon.  Compare this to the entire 2005 transactional print market of $120 billion USD and the 2005 retail direct mail market of $61.1 billion USD and you'll see why this technology matters to Google.

So this brings me back to "free" business offerings like Google docs and gmail.

I wonder what Google will do with the Groupon information if it actually makes the acquisition.  Google, according to the article "would also pick up contact information for about 12 million consumers. Groupon collects credit card information from users, as well as data it uses to personalize its offers, such as their neighborhoods and the kinds of businesses they have bought web coupons from in the past."

So Google will not only have my documents, my spreadsheets, my business information, all my email, all my blogs and all the rest I put into its free services but now it will also have all sorts of information about every business around me and what that business wants me to buy.  As I wrote yesterday this will probably include all the drugs I take via prescription and a huge amount of inferred data about my corresponding health.

First off, what's wrong with everybody?  
Google has been working diligently to create the Utopian Google Universe in which everyone is supposed to live a free and fulfilling digital life.  This is a very Orwellian concept and I am very surprised that people go along with it all, much less willingly.

Clearly if you look at Googles acquisition history its clear they want to snoop into every bit of all aspects of your life and your business.  Users dumping information into this system, like me, should know better.  Google will happily cooperate with anyone with a court order that wants your information - whether you like it or not.

(As I have said before I don't put anything into blogspot other than what you read so I don' care - Google would index it where ever it might be, e.g., Wordpress.)

Secondly, their ad technology is actually pretty dumb.  
I write a lot in these blogs and I also have their "adsense" system on which creates the various ads you see on the upper left of each blog.  I write about a lot of peculiar things and, in doing so, use unusual words.  Of course, adsense, which scans the blogs, generates "related ads" to display.

This is a dumb model because adsense is dumb.  It looks, apparently, only for key words and not for context (this is not surprising to me but that's another story).  So if I write a blog post about "Vitamin D" (as I have here) various vitamin ads appear.  However, if I write bad things about Vitamin D - the same ads appear.  If I think taking Vitamin D is a stupid idea why does adsense try to sell it to me.  Secondly, you will probably see Vitamin D ads appearing in the blog because I am writing about how adsense does such a bad job putting up ads.  

Third, you probably noticed that the text color changed from white to black during the course of this article.  I cannot figure out why and my guess is that it would be a long time before I could actually reach someone who could help me let alone fix it.  Sure I can switch the "HTML" mode but this blogger stuff is pretty flaky and it will likely mess up the rest of what I am trying write and format.

As should be clear from my article on HIPAA I would not be surprised if the Google privacy model allows Google to "profile" you based on what you do, i.e., not use your data directly but instead build a profile about you based on it which they can sell and use however they like.

No, I fear and loathe Google.

No doubt there is a digital Doppelganger of me somewhere in their vast network that is used to simulate what I might purchase.   Based on what I have seen I am quite certain its completely wrong because their stupid algorithms cannot really tell what I am writing about.  

That means that what they are selling to their affiliates about me is also wrong, caveat emptor.

So its a good thing I don't care.

(Check out their privacy center here if you care.)

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