The following is an Op-Ed piece.
If you’re a user of Google+, you might have come across Google’s Auto Awesome feature by now.
For the uninitiated, it’s a service that puts together the photos you’ve uploaded over the past year into a photo montage, set to music. It’s a fun and convenient way to take a wistful look back at the past year, if only to moan at how much weight you’ve put on since your last New Year’s Resolution.
What about Google themselves though? What have they been up to this past year?
It started way back in April early this year, when Google fired off a warning shot with the release of Eric Schmidt’s latest e-book. Here’s a quick 411 on the book, in case you haven’t heard much about it.
- It was co-written with Jared Cohen, director of Google Ideas, who also served the Obama administration as an advocate for Internet freedom in oppressive countries. Yeah, yeah, we hear your PRISM jokes a mile away, brother. Moving on…
- The book was named The New Digital Age—a godawful generic title, we know. Still, the lame 90s-dot-com-boom name contains important hints towards the contents of the book itself, because…
- It revealed Schmidt’s ideas for how the Internet would change life as we know it in the years to come—essentially, a prediction of our technological future. Here’s a quote that’s pretty much famous by now:
Within search results, information tied to verified online profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification, which will result in most users naturally clicking on the top (verified) results. The true cost of remaining anonymous, then, might be irrelevance; even the most fascinating content, if tied to an anonymous profile, simply won’t be seen because of its excessively low ranking.”
So Google’s executive chairman writes a book about things that haven’t happened yet, you’re saying.
Why is this important?
As we’ve written before previously, Google are the search masters to beat when it comes to navigating the Internet—it’s just simply their thing, like Kobe with basketball or Babe with baseball.
On one hand, this alone means that any hint Google gives us of how search rankings will change in the future is worth sitting up straight for, because they’re just that big enough to change the Internet substantially.
However, the converse is also true: because search is Google’s very bread and butter, any issue worth changing the way they operate for has to be one with the full faith and force of the G-Men behind it.
As we’ve also mentioned before, this paradigm shift first manifested in Google Plus’s Authorship function, which incentivized the integration of your real-life identity with potential SEO benefits in much the same way Schmidt described it.
Since then, Google has been going on an rampaging spree to bring people onboard Google Plus through the rest of their services, with Youtube being one of the most high-profile examples so far.
Predictably, most Youtube users kinda went batshit ape insane, with a Change.org petition against the move numbering at over 228,000 supporters as of this post. Judging from the sheer spite of the vitriol alone, you’d think a bunch of Jehovah’s Witnesses had shown up on their collective doorsteps to forcibly baptize them all with a very large fire hose.
That’s not to say that their anger is entirely unjustified.
With social media already such a pervasive part of our world, any involuntary revelation of real life identity always comes with the risk of exposing dangerous information such as housing addresses to baddies.
However, given that Youtube commenters are generally acknowledged to be some of the most godawful human beings this side of Hitler (you’re welcome, Godwin), one can also see the upside of Google’s decision as well.
Staunch fans of Google argue that giving human faces to otherwise anonymous usernames will encourage everyone to play nice, instead of making rude and crude remarks about the massive amounts of sympathy sex everybody is having with everybody’s obese and presumably senile grandmother.
With the introduction of Google’s new terms of service last month, it seems that the move away from privacy and anonymity is now finally in full swing.
TOS;DR—a website that monitors and summarizes terms of service—notes that in addition to the much publicized allowance for Google Plus to use your bitchingly beautiful mug in their advertisements, the new terms of service also remove their traditional promise to anonymize your data after 18 months.
Effectively, the new terms of service allow for Google to keep your private data and link it back to you for all eternity, until perhaps the machines finally rise to form Skynet and enslave us all.
This is the way civilization ends, people! Not with a bang or with a whimper, but with the bangin’ whimper of Stoya and James Deen going hard at it, as your porn-viewing habits are used against you by your merciless machine overlords.
Is there any way, though, that we can still see Google as acting for the greater good?
After all, this is the company that solemnly swore never to become evil at their inception.
Just like you, we’ve been debating this question endlessly here at the ReferralCandy offices, and despite what the naysayers are saying, we’d still like to think that the likes of Larry, Sergey and Eric aren’t entirely evil.
There has to be something more to the story, something more than an evil corporate empire that’s intent on stealing your face…
The only answers we can find are on Google’s product about page, when they describe their vision of creating the “perfect search engine” that effectively reads your mind and helps you to “find the information you need and get the things you need to do done”.
If we were to take them at face value, it might seem that in the long run, Google believes that the convenience ultimately provided by a company that knows your habits inside outside radically outweighs any privacy concerns you might have.
What’s a little lack of privacy, they seem to argue, if your Google account can one day predict your every need and want?
Is that a trade-off that’s worth it in the final reckoning, though? Is Google really as idealistic as they claim to be? Are they just actually just paving the way for the NSA to hack into our brains instead? Will they program us to love Obama unconditionally? If Google is all about free data, will we finally find out what Kanye was thinking when he named his daughter North West?