Google: Creepy Stalker or Super Assistant?

Of course you already know this, but in case you’ve had a momentary brain lapse, let me remind you that Google is a MASSIVE enterprise. Google is the largest search engine by a long shot. By early 2014, Google had 67.6% of the global search market share with Bing coming in second at 18.7% and Yahoo third with only 10%. As of the 4th quarter of 2013, Google’s Android mobile operating system had a firm hold on more than 77% of the global market share. Google’s email client, aptly named “Gmail,” has more than 500 million users. More than 1 billion unique users visit Google’s YouTube video network each month, and there are more than 100 hours of video uploaded to the site each MINUTE. Google+ surpassed Twitter in 2013 as the second most popular social network with 540 million monthly active users. Google also has the second most used web browser, with Chrome claiming 20% of the global market share behind Microsoft’s Internet Explorer’s 58% and Firefox sitting in third place with 15%.

googleusers

The Social Media Hat, 2014

Google also has a very popular website analytics product. The company has a huge display ad network and one of the most widely used search ad networks. Google has huge amounts of cloud storage known as Google Drive, along with productivity products that allow users to create spreadsheets (Sheets), documents (Docs), slide presentations (Slides), drawings (Drawings), surveys (Forms) PDFs and more. Google Maps and Google Earth offer users the chance to find turn-by-turn directions and see the world via satellite. Google helps us translate things into different languages, build websites, keep track of our tasks and appointments, and edit and share photos. Google is can be your phone and voicemail, and chat/text messaging service. And now, Google can even act as your wallet – “Google Wallet makes it easy to pay – in stores, online or to anyone in the US with a Gmail address. It works with any debit or credit card, on every mobile carrier” – by connecting to your financial institutions so you have instant access to your money anywhere and everywhere.

Oh, and don’t forget about Google’s self-driving car. They are working on that too…

ROBOCAR-master675

The New York Times, 2014

(Click the image to view a video about the project.)

But I digress.

If you’re a Google user, Google knows you. Like, REALLY. KNOWS. YOU. Everything about you. You’ve trusted Google with all your contacts and their information, your email and chat (and maybe even voice) conversations, your financial wheelings and dealings. Google knows where you are going and when because of your calendar, and how you’re going to get there and how long it will take you thanks to your usage of Google maps. Google knows that you’re a hypochondriac because of the weird (and random) diseases you’ve searched for as of late, what jobs you’ve applied for recently thanks to the new job description and resume additions you uploaded to your Google Drive, and about your secret love of Taylor Swift music videos .

Google knows more about you than your significant other, your mom, your bestie and your dog, all squished together. So how does that make you feel?

doesgoogleAs you can see from a screen grab of my recent search on the subject, I’m not the first person to wonder how much Google knows. The fact that Google captures and retains so much data does freak out a lot of people, and rightfully so. But you’ve got to do some research and weigh the pros and cons before you set your Gmail account on fire and swear off the Google Empire for life.

According to Google’s privacy policy, the company collects data in two ways:
1. It collects the information that you give it willingly.
2. It collects information about you as you use its products and services.
Sounds pretty benign really, until you consider the fact that that includes every website that uses the Google Ad Network (or that you browse to using Chrome). And every single item that comes through your email box (and Hangout chat). And everything you do on your Android smartphone or tablet (web searches, app downloads and usage, video views, notes taken, alarms set, reminders created…). And… And… And…

EEK!

So that answers the question “WHAT DOES GOOGLE KNOW ABOUT ME?” But I would argue that the more important question to be asked is “WHAT, DEAR GOOGLE, ARE YOU GOING TO DO WITH ALL MY PRECIOUS INFORMATION?!?”

The answer to this question can be found in two key tenets of the Google way of life. The first is the initial sentence of the Google Code of Conduct: “Don’t be evil” (2012). And who is to follow this doctrine? In short – EVERYONE. Google’s employees, board members, contractors, consultants, EVERYONE. The second is #1 of Google’s Ten Things We Know to be True: “Focus on the user and all else will follow.” Google’s privacy policy further details this dogma as it relates to data collection:

We use the information we collect from all of our services to provide, maintain, protect and improve them, to develop new ones, and to protect Google and our users. We also use this information to offer you tailored content – like giving you more relevant search results and ads.

In light of the recent data breaches at Target, Home Depot, and Michaels (among others), it’s no surprise that consumers are leery of sharing any personal information anywhere. You can see evidence of consumer distrust in these infographics:

trust

Smart Data Collective, 2014

data

Smart Data Collective, 2014

But Google takes security very seriously:

We understand that secure products are instrumental in maintaining the trust you place in us and strive to create innovative products that both serve your needs and operate in your best interest… This includes everybody: the people who use Google services (thank you all!), the software developers who make our applications, and the external security enthusiasts who keep us on our toes. These combined efforts go a long way in making the Internet safer and more secure.

So the real question becomes: Are you willing to trade your personal data in order to save time and make your life easier?  For hundreds and thousands (perhaps even millions) of people the answer to that question is a resounding YES. They choose to see Google not as a creepy stalker, but as a trusted confidante and super assistant.

GoogleNow2Take Google Now, for instance. (Click on the screenshot of the widget to see what you see when you open the app.) Google Now uses your email, calendar, travel patterns, web searches and known favorites (i.e. sports teams to deliver the most relevant and helpful content to users all in one place. I love it. It tracks my packages (regardless of carrier), follows my flight statuses and alerts me of changes, tells me sports scores, notifies me of travel times to my appointments based on current traffic situations, gives me weather information, and lets me know what might be of interest near where I currently am based on what Google has learned about me (restaurant preferences, what I might like to watch on TV, ideal photo spots, family-friendly tourist attractions, etc.). Google Now is an amazing tool that I use every day.

So, creepy stalker or super assistant (or both?)…
What is Google to you?

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