Spooky Google

Google creeps out Nicholas Carr:

Google is reading my mind—or trying to. Drawing on the terabytes of data it collects on people’s search queries, it predicts, with each letter I type, what I’m most likely to be looking for. …

It felt a little creepy, too. Every time Google presents me with search terms customized to what I’m typing, it reminds me that the company monitors my every move. The privacy risks inherent in such long-distance exchanges became apparent in February, when three European researchers revealed that they had used intercepts of some Google Suggest traffic to reconstruct people’s searches. Alerted to the breach, Google quickly added a new layer of security to the transmissions, but the researchers claim that vulnerabilities remain.

Fair enough and good to know. But one need not use Google. There are alternatives. Vote with your feet (fingers). Carr also writes,

Software programmers are taking the displacement of personal agency to a new level. Relentlessly focused on making their programs more “user friendly,” they’re scripting the intimate processes of intellectual inquiry and even social attachment. We follow their scripts when we click on one of Google’s keyword suggestions, and we follow them when we select from a list of categories to describe ourselves and our relationships on Facebook. These choices are convenient, but they’re not our own. They’re generalizations masquerading as personalizations.

This goes too far. The choices are most certainly our own, beginning with the choice to use a Google product and including the choice to follow one of its suggestions. Is a thesaurus a masquerade too? After all, if I want a synonym for “overreach” and turn to a thesaurus it may suggest “fail,” “go wrong,” and “miscarry.” How convenient. I’ll choose “fail.” Is this a breach of my autonomy?! What if I wanted something more like, “hype.” Maybe I should throw off all the shackles of the oppressive language my culture has chosen for me and make up my own words. “Foobagiberglob!!!” Evil thesaurus!

Look, Google products and a thesaurus are tools. We can fail to understand them. We can fail to use them well. But the failure is ours.

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