Posted by: paulfbove | February 12, 2008

Do you fear Google?

Should I fear Google? I hate being noncommital on answering such a question, but I truly think the answer is yes and no. John Battelle, in The Search, tells us that the “Database of Intentions” is, in simple terms, an “aggregate of. . . searches [that is] knowable.” What this means is that search is a history of us and of other users. History itself is searchable–or put another way, it is retreivable. Hence, a history of users can be retrieved and used to market items and/or find out a person’s habits, and quite possibly every other facet of that persons online (and real-life) behavior. This capability is good and bad. Marketers of products can target their items to us based on what we view. Additionally (and it’s something Battelle didn’t mention), your IP address can pinpoint a general geography (usually within a couple miles radius of your city) that can further help that marketer direct something at you. Do I want to be bombarded with a “come on” about every product I’m interested in being directed to me while I search? Probably not. The ability of technology to know what I like isn’t one of my favorite aspects.

Let’s take that to a further level. The copyright of The Search is 2005 and we are now in 2008. Battelle gave a few examples of the possible use of DVR to target an item to a TV viewer. TiVo currently does that! TiVo knows what I might like to watch based on what I do watch and records the shows it thinks I should see (well, actually it doesn’t because I disabled that feature right away). But TiVo does now have ads that are viewable in my program guide. When I originally had TiVo 5 or 6 years ago, these functions didn’t exist. That is why I bring up the copyright year. When reading all of our assigned books, I have kept a close eye on the copyright, because the first thing that strikes me is how outdated a book from 2006 really is already (but that’ll be for another discussion). Anyway, just as Google can direct advertising at you, so can DVRs. Great for them to make money, great for a big company to make money, but bad for the little guys who don’t have the resources to keep up with AdWords.

Onto the notion of search (and specifically Google), should we be afraid? I think a little yes. The reason is simple. People don’t often think about their actions and thanks to the wonders of Web 2.0, we now have more ways to share our actions. Look at a simple Facebook or MySpace entry. If you’re a member of one of those sites, you can post a story about your weekend bender in lucid detail, complete with photos. You then share your post with your friends. Now consider that everything you post to one of those sites, or every letter to the editor your write, or anyplace else your name shows up, is leaving a trail of virtual breadcrumbs. These breadcrumbs become part of your Database of Intention. They are part of your virtual history and anyone with Google can do a search for you and find out everything about you. Is it Big Brotheresque? Maybe a little. And for most people, no huge harm will occur from having your Database available for display. But for some people, it can cause great harm. Think about a person undergoing an investigation for a job or security clearance. HR does a search and sees your whacky photos from Spring Break in Panama City. All of a sudden they’re having second thoughts about hiring you. Or consider the scenario of somebody using search to find out your personal information and perpetrating identity theft.  It happens. There are a lot of breadcrumbs out there.

My answer to whether we should truly fear Google remains a definitive, “I don’t know.” On first blush I’d say no, Google is a helpful tool that allows me to find information quickly. But, if you keep up with the power of Google and what it is creating, maybe we should be a little afraid. Remember, the Googlebot is out there.



  1. […] They are a Website that became a verb for Christsake! As I wrote about previously, they have the Googlebot! They are so huge that I will not link to their Webpage because if you don’t know what Google […]

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