Is it just me, or is the story of Google turning in to a James Bond movie?
Consider these developments:
- A few weeks ago, Google launched its own satellite to take high-resolution pictures of the Earth. They plan to sell the high-res pictures, and put lower-resolution ones into the Google Maps and Google Earth products. Remember, when looking up at the sky, to smile.
- Not satisfied with satellite imagery, Google launched Street View in 2007. From Google Maps, you can now look at pictures of the streets. In Street View, you can turn and look in any direction from a point on the road. You can also zoom in, to the point where some people are even visible though the windows of their houses.
- At the beginning of the month, Google launched Chrome, its new web browser. The new browser is supposed to make web browsing faster and more efficient. They hope to take market share away from Internet Explorer and Firefox. Why bother? Everything you type into the browser goes to Google. Every web address and search term goes to their servers, and gets logged. When agreeing to the initial license agreement for Chrome, you also gave Google the rights to any content you create with the browser. That means they have the copyright for anything you write in your browser. They’re allowed to keep your login information for your bank accounts. They can store a list of web sites you visit, as well as a list of things you search for online. And none of this is aggregated data — it’s all tied to your computer and traceable back to you. Once people started reading the license agreement, they backed off on the language that says they own the rights to everything. But your data still goes through their servers. I posted last week about my Chrome impression.
- Steve Gibson reported last week that the Chrome installer also adds plugins to any existing Internet Explorer or Firefox installations on the computer. It doesn’t ask if you want to install these plugins, it just does it as part of the installation. It’s not clear yet what these plugins are doing or why they’re being installed, but privacy advocates worry that they may be sending additional data to Google from those browsers as well.
- The Electronic Frontier Foundation expressed concern last week about the information Google is collecting. EFF Staff Technologist Peter Eckersley explains, “We’re worried that Chrome will be another giant conveyer belt moving private information about our use of the Web into Google’s data vaults. Google already knows far too much about what everybody is thinking at any given moment.”
- In 2004, Google launched Gmail to provide free email accounts to anyone who wants one. Over the years, they’ve made it increasingly easy for people to use Gmail to manage their personal and corporate email services. They support POP and IMAP. You can register your own domain and use gMail to manage your email. Some schools are using it for staff and student email accounts. Plus, you get LOTS of storage, so you can backup files simply by emailing them to your Gmail account. Guess who now has a copy of all of your email?
- In 2006, Google started buying up online document companies and merging their products. Using the Writely word processor, presentation software from Tonic Systems, and a locally developed spreadsheet, they launched Google Docs. Now, you can create, share, and mangage all of your documents online. There’s no need to buy an office productivity suite. There’s no need to worry about backups, or multiple copies of documents, or different software versions. Google will keep your documents for you. Plus, if the government would like to read your email or look at your files, they no longer have to get a search warrant and seize your computer. Now, they can just issue a (relatively easy to get) subpoena to Google, and your data’s theirs.
- Google started as a search engine. Then, they branched into email. Next, they took on office productivity suites. Then, they moved into the browser world. With each step, they’ve gained more access to your data and more control over what you do with your computer. What’s next? The operating system. While they’re not ready to replace Windows yet, they do have their sights set on the mobile market with Android. Given Google’s apparent appetite for data, I don’t think I want their hooks that deep in any computer I’m going to be using.
- The London Times reported last week that Google is considering deployment of off-shore data centers. That’s right, folks. They’re putting their servers on barges in the ocean. They would use wave energy to power and cool their servers, and they wouldn’t have to pay property taxes. While there’s no timeline on this project, a floating digital fortress with the world’s email, surfing habits, and private documents would make Karl Stromberg proud.
I’ve started to pay a lot more attention to the information I send to Google. I’m not logging in to Google’s services unless I absolutely have to. I’m using GMail less and less. I only use Google Docs when I need the collaborative features that just aren’t available anywhere else. I’m staying away from Chrome. Maybe I’m just paranoid, but it’s getting really hard to not see Google as the bad guy.