Google’s Watching — Sound the Alarm!


google_recruiting_small.jpgADOTAS – Every time I get on the Internet, I feel a little more like Rockwell:

I’m just an average man with an average life
I work from nine to five, hey, hell, I pay the price
All I want is to be left alone in my average home
But why do I always feel like I’m in the Twilight Zone?

Then the late Micheal Jackson busts in wailing, “I always feel like somebody’s watching me!” Which takes the creepy level over the top — stop haunting me, Jacko, I’ll never buy a copy of “Thriller”!

Who is watching me? WHO? Well, Rockwell was worried about his neighbors and the mailman, but more than 25 years later digital paranoids are more concerned with Big G — the Google, which is still stamping out the fires raised by its admission that it “inadvertently” collected private data such as passwords over unencrypted wireless networks with its Street View cars. (For the record, I think it was an accident — collecting such data only caused Google problems).

In celebrating “F*ck Google Week,” the Free Art and Technology (FAT) Lab is hailing a browser plugin that signals a visual and audio alert every time you send data to Google.

Google Alarm from Jamie Dubs on Vimeo.

On the video, the browser hits numerous websites, from Google itself to Vimeo to Twitter to the FAT homepage — and the alarm goes off every time, in a variety of tones from air raid to air horn. A tracker in the upper right-hand corner keeps track of the number of websites you visit where Google takes some data versus the total number of sites. Below that is a checklist of Google programs — Analytics, AdSense, etc. — that are snatching info from you.

Are you paranoid or paranoid enough? FAT asks: “Even outside Gmail and YouTube you are constantly sending Google your information through their vast network of ‘tracking bugs’: Google Analytics, Google AdSense, YouTube embeds, API calls… all of this data can be used to monitor & track your personal web browsing habits.”

But beyond cynicism (or maybe its ultra cynical) this is a fine effort for boosting transparency. Most consumers don’t realize how much information is being collected while they surf the web. They also don’t realize that it’s pretty much anonymous and innocuous. Honestly, this is good for Google — browsers should have a better idea of when their data is getting snatched online… Which is pretty much all the time.

There is no such thing as a free lunch my pappy taught me. Consumers have to understand there’s a trade-off — to use neato services like Google, you’ve got to give up some data. It’s fair because Google is a service of convenience, not necessity — though many may argue to keep up in our modern times, it is the latter.

Consider this — when you walk down a city street, your image is captured a ridiculous amount of times by various security devices. Is somebody watching you? Probably not — you’re being recorded and only if there’s some kind of suspicious activity will a corporate jockey look at your mug.

There’s an unspoken agreement with most of the general public that this is an acceptable measure of safety — sure, you may see signs that say “This store is under surveillance” but have you ever decided not to enter a store because of that?

The surveillance state is alive and well, though it’s not what Philip K. Dick predicted in books like “A Scanner Darkly.” People can’t keep track or process the giant swaths of data — images, IP addresses, online purchases — collected but computers can. How is it used then? To target ads.

It’s not like gathering and selling information is a new enterprise — it’s just more profitable than ever in the Internet age. Companies like Axciom were collecting offline data long before they moved online and Bizo CEO Russell Glass noted that perfectly legal offline targeting techniques are far more unsettling than online.

Are you being watched? Yep. The real question is: are you aware you’re being watched? And then can you accept that in exchange for the for the many splendors of the Internet?

Sound the alarm if you really feel like it.


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