Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Google is scary

I have been negative on Google in the past, due to their relaxed use of open source (i.e. returning code to the community only when convenient). However, I feel that is nothing compared to what is happening (and will happen).

Today Google announced a slight change in plans. They are launching "interest-based" advertising. Camouflaged under a "making ads more interesting" tag line, in reality they are starting to use the information they collect about you browsing the web. Any site that you visit that has Google ads (pretty much all) will be used to create a profile of you, so that they can target ads to your interest (and sell it to the advertisers, of course). Their top line must be hurting...

Ok, we knew they could do it, so where is the problem?

Well, let's look at mobile for a second. They just launched Latitude. They will not use the data they will collect about you for now. Until the business starts degrading a bit more and they will change the course.

Think about it:
  1. they know what you like and the site you visit, including when you do it and from where (ever noticed that Google changes language depending on where you connect from?). Not to be evil, just to create a profile of you to better target ads.
  2. they know where you go, with Latitude, with a precision of 3 meters if you have GPS in your phone (something all phones will have in a few years). With that information, is easy to understand if you have a job or not (are you going back and forth from home every day to the same place? Then you have a job). Are you a traveler, do you go to the airport often? Do you work long hours, are you back at home late or early? Do you go out at night and have fun or stay at home in front of your TV? Out in the same bar, different bar every weekend? Which area in the city, Castro? Knowing where you are every single moment they can build a profile of the kind of person you are, quite accurately. Do not give me the BS of "it is too much data to compute!". They are scanning every book on the planet, mapping every street in the world. Nothing is too big for them. Of course, they are going to create a very accurate profile of you, but not to be evil, just to better target ads (interesting ones).
  3. they read your email, if you use Gmail, which happens to be the only hosted email system growing. If you write often about soccer, you must like it. Hey, we do not care about what you write, we just read it just to create a profile of you to better target ads...
  4. they know what you watch, since you must be using YouTube quite often. Watching strange things? Well, now we know what you like... Not to be evil, blah blah.
  5. they have your cell phone, home phone, home address. I know, you say: I did not give it to them! Unfortunately, I am ready to bet that some of your friends have your email address in their address book on Gmail, including your cell phone and home phone. The fact you did not give it to Google does not mean they do not have it. They do. It just adds to your profile. In case they need to call you for delivering an ad you would really like.
One thing they do not have (yet) is your full social network. I am sure they are hurting. They know some of your friends, due to the address books, but they are nowhere close to what Facebook is doing. I am ready to bet it is not going to last long. They need that kind of information to better target ads... They might just buy Facebook and get over it.

Bottom line, Google is scary. There is nothing we can do about it. We can talk but at the end of the day, we use Google services (actually, I use Adblock Plus, so at least they can't target me through ads). You can opt out, but how many will? Few paranoids. In public, we are all scared about privacy. In private, we are a bunch of lazy people. Google knows it. And it collects data about us.

Very valuable data. Something they might not use. As they were not using the info they were collecting about the sites you were visiting. Wait for their stock to drop a bit, they will use the next weapon. I guarantee it.

Google is scary.