Do you really want Google to get to know you better? Simon Moores certainly doesn't
I like Google. It’ is a really useful service that I have come to rely on almost as much as my web browser, where it is conveniently attached to the menu bar.
I use it for my weblog and my e-mail and I use it a hundred times a day to find out useful facts and research news stories. But I really don’t like the idea of Google spidering my hard disc so that the world can share my MP3 files, family photos album or letters to my bank manager.
Privacy is a commodity under increasing threat of extinction - a point illustrated only too well by a news story from Korea, that employees from a mobile phone company sold the personal details of six million people (yes that's six million) their names, mobile phone numbers, e-mail addresses and so on, to so-called marketing companies.
In this country, we have not yet seen an example like the AOL case, with an ISP or a mobile telephone company losing a gigabyte of customer data to a clever criminal armed with an iPod, but who’s to say it will not happen?
An August survey from MessageLabs revealed that six out of 10 companies claim they will give up using e-mail if the threat posed by viruses and spam is not contained, with one in five businesses believing online fraud such as ID theft and phishing is now a real threat (which must be true - it has been turned into a new television drama for the autumn).
Back to Google desktop search then. According to the chief executive, my old friend Eric Schmidt, the company's goal was to create a "Google that knows you", which at first glance, seems like a really good idea.
Download the software and Google will allow you to search and index your own system as smoothly as it searches a billion other computers connected to the web. But hold on a moment - read the terms and conditions first:
Under “Consent to Collect Non-Personal Information”, it says, “Google Desktop Search may collect certain non-personally identifiable information that resides on your computer, including, without limitation, the number of searches you do and the time it takes to see your results. Unless you choose to opt out, either during installation or at any time after installation, non-personal information collected will be sent to Google.”
Call me paranoid if you like but I really do not like the idea, however useful, of my data being catalogued and sent back to the domain of Uncle Sam.
What about all my MP3 files? Exactly! While I’m not into illegal file sharing, I was collecting MP3s before Windows Media Player was even thought, my Macintosh is crammed with them. And what about any private photos of my baby daughter having her first bath, try explaining that in court?
You can, of course, opt out of sending the information to Google, which will probably use it to refine its ad-searching and delivery capability even further, but as a columnist who writes extensively on the oxymoron of internet security, I’m not convinced that the prevention of personal information “leakage” is a bullet-proof concept and, faced by a plague of security problems, the whole notion gives me the twitches.
Let’s be honest. I’m uncomfortable about having any personal information sitting on a server anywhere anymore, for any purpose. “Trust no one” was the sensible advice made famous in the popular television series, The X Files.
Forget the aliens; it’s the search engines you have to worry about.
Setting the world to rights with the collected thoughts and opinions of leading industry analyst Dr Simon Moores of Zentelligence.
Acting globally, Zentelligence (Research) advises governments, suppliers, business and the media on the evolution, application and delivery of leading-edge technologies, and specialises in the areas of e-government and information security.
For further information on Zentelligence and its research, presentation and analyst services, visit www.zentelligence.com