Brain Proffitt raises some interesting points in his article, Why Do We Trust Google More than Facebook, that he wrote in response to a post by Newclosed that raises interesting questions about the role of Google in the IT community.
Newclosed thinks that Google is the new Microsoft, and that it open sources its software because “it gives them free marketing as the good guys.” Makes sense as open source is in line with Google’s “Don’t be evil” mantra. And as its Chrome OS demonstrates, letting the masses tinker with code can yield some surprising, and helpful, results. You can argue that it comes down to timing. Google just happen to offer its code at the right time, a time when people were embracing open source and the concept of crowd sourcing. Both were around before Google, but Google made them main stream.
Proffitt points this out, and that the Web is the new platform and Google wants to own it, just as the PC was the platform back in the day and Microsoft wanted to own it. And then he delves into data collection, since, as Newclosed pointed out, Microsoft didn’t own user data, but Google does.
The definition of “own” is debatable, but the comparison is interesting. Remember, Microsoft sells desktop software. It sells software you install on your computer, and documents you create stay on your computer unless you choose to share them. You can share them my printing them out, having someone look over your shoulder or by attaching them in an email. At the end of the day, however, the documents remained on your desktop. Google offers a contrast that gets wrapped around the cloak of convenience.
I’ve made the convenience argument before, that convenience trumps privacy, and Proffitt offers something similar: “people are willing to pay the price for convenience from Google with a little less privacy.” While I believe it applies more generally, Proffitt focuses specifically on Google, and it still fits.
Instead of selling software, Google sells you convenience. Instead of having to compose a document on your desktop, and then email it for review only to get it back, download it again, make changes and repeat the process, you can compose a share a document on the Web using Google Docs. It is a marvelous, convenient way of creating documents. I co-wrote the open source article with Dennis Kennedy using Google Docs. It was incredibly easy, and convenient. Some, dare say, might call it efficient.
However, Google now has a fair amount of my information stored somewhere. The article, certainly, unless it has been deleted. But even its deletion from my Docs page doesn’t necessarily mean it is inaccessible to all. It still exists, somewhere, for a period of time. And there are all the other documents, spreadsheets, presentations and who knows what else. Not to mention email, search history, directions I’ve looked up, all the ads I’ve clicked on…compared to Microsoft’s desktop software, my digital footprint is gigantic. I’m certain there is more information Google has collected on me from any number of places, I certainly get an inkling of that when I see “ad.doubleclick.com” appear when a Web page loads.
If you really want to think this through, you may ultimately come to compare Google to Big Brother a-la 1984. It is pervasive, people are used to it, hardly give Googling or using any of Google’s services a second thought. Sound familiar?
Just as it is doubtful so many people will jump ship over Facebook’s privacy control issues, I highly doubt people will jump ship over Google’s vast collection of data. Just like Facebook already connects you with people, Google already makes use of your information. Dropping either immediately creates a big hole, and they know it. We’re dependent on the convenience offered by Facebook, Google and the Internet in general.