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Google Is Getting Too Personal

Fri, 02/03/2012 - 4:09pm
Chris Fox, Associate Editor, PD&D

As we all continue to marvel at the phenomenon that is Google, we must remember to look and assess before we jump forward.

Google has begun to reevaluate its ever-changing algorithms by sifting through photos and commentary on its new social network, Google+. Innovators and engineers should be elated to hear this news, as Google is only trying to make our lives simpler. With internet and social network standards these days, especially with legislation like the SOPA Act being discussed, there tends to be a lot of unknown and grey territory.

The unknown should be great, right? How would amazing inventions ever come about without some dark territory that has yet to be explored? This is very true, but there is a new line, and the smudged edges of said line makes ethics a daunting challenge.

As Google uses its ever-changing system to scan the interwebs for keywords and relevant search information, its also searches and examines data about your preferences, lifestyle, personality, and demographics. There is an issue with this that is painfully obvious: It’s a violation of privacy.

Though it may feel like Google is peeking in your window, we have to realize that it is already standing in the house. And we were the ones that let Google in the house. In fact, we even treated it to a cocktail and some appetizers. In all honesty, this is fine in my book. We are all guilty of posting things online, whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, or a random comment on somebody’s blog. And in this day in age we need to be smart about what we share about ourselves.

The real kicker is why Google is digging up this data on us. It is looking to customize our searches fine tune our Google+ accounts, and weave all of our social media interaction across all formats from desktops to tablets to smart phones. Sounds great! Why wouldn’t I want Google to find things I am more interested in? What is so bad about developing a personalized search engine that already knows what I’m looking for?

As profound as this is from an algorithmic and computer engineering standpoint, there are some unsettling issues with this type of system. As we search for new topics, Google will continue to deliver information that conforms to our thinking, without challenging our beliefs, or even offering opposing views. This is fine at first, but when you consider these circumstances over an extended period of time (in the internet world that can be as little as a few days) it is bound to trump any outside-of-the-box thinking.

Ancient philosophers and contemporary innovators alike have said that expansion of our knowledge base is vital to new ideas. When we have search engines catering to our specific ideologies and agendas, we become our own propaganda machine. If we continue to read/view things that only cater to our bias, we will essentially trump any insightful thinking. This can lead to spinning information in such a way that it will eventually become completely skewed and false.

When we are presented with facts and ideals that support our beliefs, those actions quickly become self-perpetuating. Bum facts, bad math, and skewed opinions derive from this sort of tunnel vision (and infotainment).

The platform that Google has developed is inspiring, but I find many negative implications and draw-backs to making our world too efficient. As we all continue to marvel at the chimera (or phenomenon, your choice) that is Google, we must remember to look and assess before we jump forward.

What’s your take? Email chris.fox@advantagemedia.com.

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