Over the past month, I've gotten multiple notices from Google about an update to their privacy documentation and, apparently, it's caused quite a little furor. As usual with any large tech company that commands so much of our data, any change is viewed with skepticism. When Facebook has a policy change, the comments in response make it appear Mark Zuckerberg personally performed a ritual designed to bring about the end of the world.
When it comes to search monolith Google, the fears are even more palpable. After all, this is where people search for all sorts of things they don't want the rest of us to know about.
If you hadn't noticed the changes with Google recently, they have been working to combine many of their already existing tools -- Google+, Gmail, Google Docs, Search, Maps and more -- into one, massive system designed to harness your personal information and search history to deliver better search results and information. On the surface, this may seem a little scary and it's perfectly reasonable to cast a wary gaze in the direction of Mountain View, California, but the reality is this meshing of technologies may be very beneficial.
The simplest way to demonstrate this is through how you used your smart phone. When you type a search into Google on an iPhone, for example, the search engine takes into account your physical location and returns results that make the most sense for you based on where you are at that moment. Whenever an app gives you that annoying little pop-up saying, "Angry Birds wants to use your location," same thing.
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Now, imagine expanding on that to an exponential degree. Imagine that Google, through the history of your searches and even through your e-mail, could tailor responses to questions based on what you have done. If Google could suggest links based on Gmail subject headings or automatically link to things inside Google Docs, there is no question it would improve the ease of use of your searches and make them more efficient.
The fears that something as private as your personal searches and, to an even greater degree, your e-mail could be used even in a benign way to provide other companies with information on your habits are discomforting at best, Orwellian at worst.