Privacy: How Google and you may be totally screwed

Another week, another scandal at the Obama Administration. Yes, the administration really should now be carrying an official tagline that reads “Scandals’r Us.” The latest? The federal government has been collecting all Verizon mobile phone calling information for some time.

Then again, if anyone thinks that it is just Verizon, I have a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn. The Patriot Act gave the Government the right to look at pretty much every piece of available personal information and people are starting to finally get upset.  

As with most things, when folks get upset, the response by government can become a bit unfocused, especially since people have tendency to overreact and now seem royally pissed. Now you might think that if we are getting upset with these wholesale attacks on our privacy we would zero in on Google, a company that has been violating our privacy on a regular basis. And yes, Google may find itself in the crosshairs as the government once again overreacts.

Our Life On Film

First let’s take a snapshot of where we are and where we are going. Right now, we are surrounded by cameras on phones, on cars, on buildings, on stoplights, on streets, in our homes and at our places of work. One of the most massive efforts in the technology industry is currently to auto index this information so that law enforcement, advertisers, and foreign governments (not to mention civil attorneys) can find and use it against us.  But this isn’t even the tip of this iceberg our phones have positioning sensors in them and we are installing sensors that can sample sounds (ostensibly to locate weapons fire) and track a variety of environmental information which should allow, at some point, someone to know more about us than we know about ourselves.  

We aren’t even remotely prepared for this level of invasive monitoring. You can see this in celebrities who should know they are always on camera and yet seem to act as if they have some kind of invisibility cloak where their embarrassing errors in judgment will somehow get missed. They then seem surprised when their foolishness shows up on some tabloid or national news service. In a very short time what they are experiencing won’t be that far from what we are experiencing and that means we all need to think a bit more and allow ourselves to get out of control far less.  

That next time you go medieval on a driver who cuts you off, or at waiter or waitress, or just decide to dump on your kid, husband, or wife in public you might want to think about how that would look to an employer, neighbor, relative or social acquaintance.  Because the odds of them seeing your misbehavior are going up dramatically and we haven’t even surrounded ourselves with Google Glass. Yet.  

Why Google May Be Screwed

People very seldom act against their own best interests and the US government really likes the ability to be able to see everything you are doing. It is more likely, in response to these increasing privacy concerns, to pick on a company that is doing something similar and slap them down. For example, after 9/11 was the focus on the horrid government response to the problem or was it on irradiating all of us and putting in place rules that almost put the airlines out of business?  9/11 was largely caused by a series of government mistakes from policies with regard to oil that both made people hate us and then funded them, then they drove a policy that required pilots go along with hijackers, and ignored the warning signs that an attack was imminent. 

Currently, virtually every time there is a leak which showcases, like the latest Verizon spying news, that the government is doing something bad, the focus first is to catch and punish the person doing the leaking. Google is the most visible private company capturing and using our personal information often without permission. As such, it is  likely the first target for what will likely be a fairly large backlash if news of how much of our privacy is being compromised continues to leak out. 

Wrapping Up:  However We Are Also Screwed

However the real focus should be on how to exploit this information to improve our lives, rather than have it being used against us.The screwy thing is we can’t access much of this information ourselves. Used properly, it could identify catastrophic problems with our cars before we have accidents, drunk drivers could be stopped before they killed kids and parents, burglaries and home invasion crimes made obsolete, and even remedial efforts to deal with mental illness could be put in place before the next massacre without having to focus so much on the tools. If the efforts surrounding the capture of this information were just balanced more to help us have better happier lives, than the impact of all of this monitoring could be more beneficial. However, the focus today appears largely hostile – designed to benefit advertisers or a government that seems to think we all are terrorists. I just think that is the wrong approach.  

But one thing I do know, and that is that increasingly you and I are on camera, so we should both be acting as if we really understand what that means. Disney employees are trained to think of being On-Stage and Off-Stage with the idea of when you are in the park you behave as if you are on-camera. Going forward, we should use them as an object lesson because increasingly we are “on-camera.”