Friday, October 10, 2008

Google is not your friend

ZDNet Education blogger, Christopher Dawson, wrote a post titled, “Google is your friend.” Dude, I can assure you that Google is not my friend. Trading partner? Sure. Sometime ally? Maybe. Back-stabbing neighbor? Now we’re getting closer.

I do acknowledge all the wonderful things Google provides — search services, Google Earth, Picasa, and so on. However, it’s important to recognize two facts about Google being your “friend:”

  1. Whether or not they realize it, all Google users engage in an implicit business deal with the company. Those amazing, so-called free, tools come at the cost of your privacy. Google hoards your data for use anytime, anywhere its voracious heart desires. The clever company is always thinking up new ways to slice and dice your personal data in service of its corporate profit.
  2. Google’s warm, fuzzy image (you know, all the pretty colors) can turn on users, and violate their trust, for good reasons or for no reason at all. For example, just read about the angst one user suffered when Google disabled his account without warning. It’s pretty ugly.

Unfortunately, ugly seems to be Google’s style. For example, read this New York Times comment in response to yet another user’s forced account lockout:

As customers, we bring the same expectations to Google’s personalized information services, like Gmail or Google Docs, its word-processing service, as we do to our bank’s Web site. These are places that hold information very dear to us. My bank recognizes that losing access for days at a time is unacceptable. It provides me with round-the-clock phone support for account problems. So, too, should Google, even if I pay the company not in the form of a monthly account fee, but with my attention, which Google commercializes by selling slices to its advertisers.

The Times has it right: for many of us, Google has become a most favored trading partner. Sadly, we nonetheless labor under the illusion of Google being our friend, when it’s only a profit machine like any other giant corporation.

In fairness, none of this lessens the educational benefits Christopher describes:

I don’t think I’m off base in saying that Google provides the largest, free set of Web 2.0 tools available to the general public, meaning that our users can access them at home or school and generally across platforms (including Linux in most cases).

Maybe all the IT failures blogging has made me cynical, but despite Google’s benefits, I still wonder whether friends like this means we don’t need enemies.

Michael Krigsman is CEO of Asuret, Inc., a software and consulting company dedicated to reducing software implementation failures.

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