Recently, I searched online for a “swim pedometer,” something to count distance and calories. The next day, I read an article on the Syracuse Post-Standard website and noticed a whole bunch of ads for swimming gear.
Coincidence? I think not.
Websites have long been using data from our posts, searches and browsing history to tailor our experiences. Facebook is the king of all data mining, deciding which of our friends to highlight in the News Feed and which advertisements to show us.
…there’s so much more that Google can do to help you by sharing more of your information with … well, you…We can provide more relevant ads…We can provide reminders that you’re going to be late for a meeting based on your location, your calendar and an understanding of what the traffic is like that day. Or ensure that our spelling suggestions, even for your friends’ names, are accurate because you’ve typed them before. People still have to do way too much heavy lifting, and we want to do a better job of helping them out.
An entertaining column in the Washington Post asks Google not to be “creepy” and said this feels like the loss of anonymity on the Internet:
Ten years ago, if your mailman had demanded to follow you around, taking note of all your appointments, giving you directions and asking to see all the pictures you took and videos you watched, “Look,” you might have said, “you’re very good, but can you stick to delivering mail unless I ask you to do otherwise? You already read all my letters and send me ads for enhancement services that I did not know I required. And this is getting a little disturbing.” Even worse if it’s the silent man at the library who looks up esoterica for you.
Google says it won’t give our information to advertisers and we will be able to adjust our privacy settings. But you can’t really “opt out” unless you never log into Google services. I’m not convinced there are alternatives that won’t do exactly the same thing. When we go online, we are automatically placing a terrifying amount of trust in the websites we visit.
Either Google is pioneering a truly fantastic way to integrate the Internet into our lives or this is some scary stuff. Maybe it’s both.