Relay #70, Panel F

don't just know technology, understand it

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Do No Evil...yet

Google is a phenomenon. The amount of information they've amassed, services they control and brainpower they have at their disposal would astound you.

Never before has a force like this been witnessed and I don't think we're prepared for what they may one day do.

They know you

If you've been a netizen for any length of time there's probably enough information indexed on Google to put together a pretty decent profile of you. I've done this myself and using nothing but Google's own services, was able to get my full name, a usable address and contact information, and a picture of my house with my car parked in the driveway. Scared yet? You should be.

I may not be the best example since I don't really have a pseudo online identity as many others do, but all it would take is a little more effort to unearth all the John Browns and Jane Doughs criss-crossing the web.

Google's mantra is _do no evil_, but I'm reminded of the adage _power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely_. No matter how non-evil Google has been thus far, what's to stop them from switching on a dime tomorrow. Who's to say that they haven't already crossed that boundary?

Once upon a time in Googleland

One of Google's latest endeavours is a service called Google Print. The purpose of this service is to provide scanned, indexed versions of printed texts that can be searched via their engine. This sounds like a great idea, and perhaps it is, but there's a problem; the authors and publishers of many of these titles aren't in Googles camp.

In such a scenario, what does a _good_ company do? Discontinue the practice? Perhaps. Ask for publishers to put forward the works that they would like scanned? Maybe. Google's approach however, was to temporarily discontinue scanning and provide publishers with a window in which they could _opt-out_ of the program. To simplify, Google stated that they will scan all books as planned unless you tell them not to scan yours. This now put the onus on the publishers rather than on Google, which will of course, result in many more books being scanned than if they had taken the _opt-in_ approach.

According to many lawyers this is perfectly legal, but good and evil aren't defined by laws, but by moral and ethics. The last time I checked I was no expert on that topic so I'll reserve my opinion, however it strikes me as interesting that Google, in an effort to launch this service and of course pull in more ad revenue to feed their ever growing company, would go against the interests of the very people who provided the content that they propose to use. Food for thought.