Friday, February 12, 2010

The trouble with Google

The problem with smart people is they can be so dumb.

Take the techie wunderkinds at Google. They thought it would be a fine idea to combine Gmail with elements of Twitter and Facebook, thus giving themselves the chance to be the Masters of All Social Media.

BUT NONE of these scary-smart people thought combining the exhibitionism of Twitter and Facebook with the inherently "private" nature of electronic mail (even if it is web based like Gmail) might be a problem. And could, for some people, be a full-blown privacy nightmare from which they'd be hard-pressed to wake up.

(Note that the last link is not kid- or workplace-friendly . . . the title is "F U Google," only spelled out in all its Anglo-Saxon glory. And the post gets more bitter from there.)

Reuters explains it all here:
Google touted its 176 million Gmail users as a key advantage in its latest attempt to break into the red-hot social networking market, dominated by the likes of Facebook and Twitter. But email may turn out to be Google’s Achilles heel.

Less than four days after introducing Google Buzz, a social networking service that is built-in to Gmail, the company is already moving to address a growing privacy backlash.
At issue is the network of contacts that Buzz automatically creates for new users based on their existing email contacts, saving people the laborious chore of manually building a social graph from scratch.

The problem is that Google’s ready-made social network is composed of people’s frequent email contacts – which are not necessarily the folks you want to receive regular status updates and random musings from (e.g. your landlord).

But the bigger problem – as many blogs and online publications have pointed out in recent days – is that people’s email contacts are in inherently private and the mere fact of making them publicly accessible can be dangerous.

Who needs the National Security Agency to comb the Internet for every detail about us when Corporate America so helpfully encourages us to out ourselves? And then we're shocked, shocked when an abusive ex-husband shows up on the stoop with a shotgun. Or when an employer takes a dim view of that picture of you . . . well, prudence dictates that I not elaborate upon that one.

Thing is, it's not just Buzz in Google's quiver of poison-tipped arrows aimed right at the stuff formerly known as "None of Your Beeswax."

See the above screenshot.

If you have Google Chrome as a web browser, you might want to be extremely careful about who you let use your computer. Or about using any remote-desktop software.

You might even want to set up various user accounts on your PC, and then banish Chrome from all but your own. Then again, you just might want to uninstall the whole thing and resign yourself to surfing the web more slowly.

That's because all it takes for someone to steal every saved password you have is to open Chrome, click on the "wrench" icon on the toolbar, go to "options" and . . . voila!

AND IT WILL show them all to you, too. Or anyone else. Oops.

The trouble is you're likely to look at that and think, at first, "That's handy. I can't keep up with all the damned things. Can't remember half of them." Only later -- if ever -- do you get around to thinking that if you can look up all your passwords. . . .

Pity. I like Chrome. It really is sleek and fast.

But I like lots of things that, sooner or later, could land me in a world of hurt. The question is whether you can afford to indulge in them.

And that question, the way things are going, could be the death of Google.

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