Google Runs Your Life
Google has a ton of great applications that can make your life easier. But Quentin Hardy wonders if we’re going to far in trusting our information to one company.
Your day begins with a wake-up call from your Google Android phone. As you run to the shower, you hit Google News and check headlines, then Gmail. Your first appointment of the day has been moved to a new location; Google Maps will direct you there. Quickly update your expense report–including the printout of that sales presentation using, say, Google Template–and shoot them to the back office in India (in Hindi, if you prefer, with Google Translate). Your boss wants to discuss your group’s contributions to some marketing documents? Lean on Google Groups. You’re not even out the door yet. You have the rest of the day to search for work-critical information on the Web while you’re at the office–to say nothing of snatching a few moments to download a game, check stock prices, organize your medical records, share photos and pick a restaurant and movie for the evening. How convenient.
And a little creepy, perhaps. Google wants to own your every waking minute online–at home, while in transit, at your workplace, wherever you happen to be. It makes connectivity oh so easy, on a desktop, laptop or mobile phone. How much easier via a little-known business called Google Applications that allows us to instantly share Google calendars, spreadsheets, memos, reports, e-mail, corporate blogs, presentations and more–much, much more–by storing them in Google’s enormous data centers. These bundled office-suite services make Google money on subscriptions, but they are also something of a Trojan horse to pull more people onto the Internet so that Google can make even more money from ads. By expanding what kinds of information people organize and share, as well as what they search, Google makes users ever more dependent on it to get through the day. But just who is in control here?
Let Google own your digital life, every last bit of it? Such a life would have its attractions. No longer would your data be inconveniently out of reach–your boss has an urgent question when you’re home, but the spreadsheet with the answer is at the office. No longer would you get pestered with notices on your PC to download an operating system upgrade or extend the subscription on your Web security. You wouldn’t worry much if your computer got stolen or fell into the bathtub; with a low price and little personal data on the machine, these netbooks may be like office furniture–if one breaks, you toss it aside and pull another from the closet. Your employer might be thrilled to move its data processing into the cloud (see related story, “Virtualization Versus the Cloud”), since that would mean savings on computer support staff.
Possible downside: You have to have complete and total faith in the company running the data repository. What if someone hacked in and got your tax return?
Obviously, putting all your information in one virtual basket makes it easier to get to — for both you and a malicious hacker. But, as we’ve seen increasingly over the last few years, your information isn’t safe, anywhere. Top secret government agencies get data stolen. So do global telecommunications firms. Is Google invulnerable? I don’t see why.
But I’ve nonetheless moved more and more of my life onto their servers over the years. I own a couple dozen domains, including this one, but haven’t used any of them for email in years. Even my work email goes directly into my Gmail account. I use Google Calendar as my chief organizational tool. We use Google’s Picasa to store and share family photos. I still don’t use Google Docs all that much, as I need some of the quirkier features of Microsoft Office (notably, Track Changes) but would do so in a heartbeat if it suddenly became more convenient. Google’s Chrome browser still isn’t as good as Firefox but I hope they keep trying to get it right.
Do I worry about Google’s growing power? Absolutely. If nothing else, as a website owner, I’m keenly aware of how powerful their search algorithms and decisions as to whom to include/exclude from Google News are in making and breaking sites. And their domination of the online ad space gives them enormous leverage, too.
But the fact of the matter is that the incremental increase in security I’d gain from disaggregating my online activities isn’t worth the rather significant loss of convenience and performance I’d have to trade. Google’s power comes from the fact that its products are quite good and often free to the end user.