Google — can’t live with it, can’t live without it!

Originally written for Gulf News ‘Off the Cuff’ http://gulfnews.com/opinion/off-cuff/google-can-t-live-with-it-can-t-live-without-it-1.1420358

Published: 20:00 November 30, 2014google.png

A box like computer sat in the back of the living room, and all of us crowded around the spanking new Pentium 4. Dad glowed with joy as he told us about everything it could do and it looked as though Dad himself had created the superfast RAM. And would you believe the computer came with an HP scanner? Not many people had scanners back then, and we put our silly drawings in it just for the sake of seeing them get scanned. The mysterious lighting up of the scanner was delightful, and we would lift the cover and peek inside. But the best thing about it by far was the internet!

You could hear the dial-tone as the computer would connect to the internet via the telephone line. The line would buzz and whirr and there would be an air of expectation. Would we get connected? Oh yes! We were connected to the World Wide Web! And the rest, as they say, is history.

Today the computer, and in particular Google knows everything about me, from what movies I like, to what has been making me curious lately. When I type “How to” in the search bar on my phone, Google automatically throws up suggestions such as “how to soothe a crying baby”. Coincidence? I think not. And guess what? Intuitive as it is, Google is usually right — by my personal estimation – a staggering 90 per cent of the time.

Unobtrusively, inconspicuously, Google has been retaining every little detail about me. And about you. From the annoying videos about foreign exchange that pop up when I watch a cricket match online, to the “Charlie bit my finger” video the girls played about a hundred times, Google has it all on database.

We don’t really think much about it, do we? When I typed in “is painting my house harmful for baby?” Google showed me exactly what I wanted to know. But the next time when I was online guess what the advertisements were about? Child-safe paints from the UK. So suddenly Google knows (and remembers!) that I have a baby and am thinking about painting my house! And because I am practically addicted to and fully reliant on Google Maps for navigation (think lots of driving with not the best sense of road geography) Google knows exactly where I conducted those searches from, and what places I am likely to frequent. So it shows me stuff nearer to me. Convenient? Yes. But creepy? Definitely. And an invasion of my privacy? Most certainly!

It’s like walking into a mall, saying “Where’s the…” At these words, the sales staff pre-empt my question (usually correctly) and find me what I’m looking for, in the store that I like, in the size I need, in the colour I prefer and in the budget I have and offer to deliver it home because they know exactly where I live. All very well, but throws you off, doesn’t it? And it doesn’t just end there. My recent shopping on Amazon.com (and the searches that led to it) had Amazon very thoughtfully nominate me for “Amazon Mom”, so that I could avail interesting deals and discounts on baby stuff. Thanks Amazon, but is there no end to the amount of data you have on me?

My reasons for aversion to social media such as Facebook and Twitter include (but are not limited to) those mentioned above. Imagine, if I were on Facebook, how much more information about me would be saved in some far away megabytes in Silicon Valley? Have you ever wondered about just how much power these organisations have over us? And what could (God forbid!) happen if all this information fell into the wrong hands?

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