Big Brother, thy name is Google

Big Brother, thy name is Google.
I’m always disillusioned when somebody sells out, and so it is with the pioneering search firm, Google. While everybody was questioning the truth of Google’s new email announcement yesterday, I was thinking other thoughts. Google is an amazing company, with abilities “far beyond those of mortal men,” but the profit incentive inherent in the company’s rumored (planned) IPO worries me in the deepest part of my soul. Google is spinning out application after application that, on the surface, are wonderful tools for everyday folks like me. But this email plan opens a door that I want kept closed, and it casts a pall on everything that is Google.

They plan to serve ads to the users involved based on the content of the email. I don’t care how you spin that — and I guarantee Google is spinning it — it’s just not right, and it appears, once again, that greed is killing the goose that laid the golden egg.

The Washington Post
” target=”_blank”>examines the privacy issues
this morning:

Though Google’s privacy policy states that “no human reads your mail to target ads or other information without your consent,” and the company says the text analysis will be done by computer, the business model already has some concerned about privacy.

“If someone sends you an e-mail offering condolences about a lost loved one, is an ad going to come up for grief counseling? Or a funeral home?” said Rich Wiggins, author of a book on Web publishing and a technologist at Michigan State University. “Some of those ads could be really creepy.”

Creepy is right, and more. When your Gmail address gets associated with, say golf, how long before it gets sold to somebody else who wants to sell you a new set of clubs?

I’ve long been an advocate of contextual advertising, and I’m not afraid to register on sites and allow them to serve me ads. But this is contextual advertising gone to seed.

The two-way nature of the Web is what makes it such a wonderful communications tool. It’s not a top-down medium, something I used to think Google understood. They’re beginning to convince me otherwise, and I don’t think Postmoderns will stand for it. The Modernist way is to smother anything in the name of profit. Nothing is sacred, which is why the profit-motive needs a certain degree of governance.

The threat of Big Brother was the ability to monitor the lives of citizens. I’m staying as far away from Gmail as I can, and I urge everybody to do likewise.

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