On Privacy, What Google Knows, and Why It Doesn’t Matter   4 comments

Value.

On a mailing list I frequent, there has been an interesting discussion of late in regards to privacy and Google.  There are a lot of people out there moving their sites, data, and information off of Google wholesale.  They are saying, in effect, that “Google knows too much about them”.  They feel that some level of privacy is being violated.  Maybe they are right — I honestly don’t know.  But I don’t feel that way, and here is my feeling behind it.

Google provides a wide variety of services.  Some of them are well-known to everyone, such as Search (what pretty much EVERYONE knows Google for), email, and YouTube.  Some of them aren’t as well known – things like Google Reader (for RSS feeds, so I not bouncing back and forth between different blog formats) and Google Music (although I really haven’t started using that yet).  Some of these services I use extensively.  Others I use occasionally, and the vast majority I may not use at all.  But that’s not all that Google touches in my life.  They also run Google Analytics (so people publishing content can see what’s popular on their website, and with who and where…).  Do you see advertisements, either text or banner advertisements, on web pages?  Chances are that they are being served by Google as well.  Google runs AdWords, which are the text advertisements.  They also purchased DoubleClick, probably the most well known advertising distribution network on the Web, some years back.  The end result?  Without some effort, I can’t really remove Google’s data dip into my life…  Nor that of anyone else on the net who is really interested.  (And there will be more on this topic later.)

Even more interesting, however — I’m not certain I CARE what Google knows about me.  Is the fact that I’m a 35-year-old single male with a predilection for pizza, craft-brewed beer (both root and alcoholic), and coffee a national secret?  Even “free content” costs, at some point.  It may be fractions of a cent to deliver, it may be more.  It does cost Google in some small measure to act as a mailbox for me, and deliver messages outbound.  How do they recoup that cost?  Advertising.  But they do it in a generally non-intrusive way, and sometimes the ads are relevant to what I’m interested in.  So yes, I click on them, and may even find what I’m looking for at times.  If they can use the data I run through their services to make those same services more palatable and interesting to use?  Great – go for it, guys.  But I know you need to make a living, too — and as long as you aren’t being too intrusive, you might as well use my data to do it.

Moreso — they are providing value TO me as well.  A couple of years ago, as an experimental project, I turned up a domain for my father’s side of the family to use.  I set it up using the free version of Google Apps, and I started running most of my personal email traffic through it.  I discovered that not only was the system interface simple and easy to use, but that it saved me time and resources managing things that I simply think of as “utilities” any more.  A good case in point:  email.  To keep a domain fairly spam-free would take me, easily, 80 hours a year — that’s 80 hours, guaranteed, of updating and maintaining spam filters, monitoring applications, and dealing with ongoing user issues.  That’s easily $4000 PER YEAR worth of work.  And that doesn’t including the basic items such as hosting a maintaining a server, keeping it relatively secure and up to date, and connected to the Internet.  There was a time that I would have viewed such an item as an interesting diversion and challenge and diversion – but now my time is worth more, to be working on other projects.  But Google Apps for domains is free for up to 10 users in an advertising supported configuration (until recently, it was 50 users, and I still have a legacy domain or two with that), and if you buy the “business grade” service, it is $50/user/year.  That is, by almost any measure, DIRT CHEAP.

Now, I won’t discount that there may be privacy concerns, and there should be better data privacy and integrity laws, such as what we see in the European Union.  I’m considering recommending (or using) Google Apps for Business for a couple of project sites, and I want to see what kind of data privacy laws they have in place before I do so.  Yet the value that they provide me as a user is very high – not only in content, but in time, money, and resources spent elsewhere, instead of keeping my basic infrastructure running.

Posted February 26, 2012 by mec in Uncategorized

On the written word…   3 comments

Elegance.

For me, the Internet has always been a medium of the written word.  No amount of flashy graphics, high-definition sound, or technological widgetry replaces the power and expressiveness of the written word.  Maybe, in some way, I’m a throwback to previous generations, who could (or can, in some cases) scarcely comprehend the new frontier that we now inhabit. But for me, and others, the written word is still what it’s all about – not podcasts, or YouTube streams.  Yes, they can enhance the experience.  Indeed, I listen a fair amount to podcasts, or occasionally watch the YouTube “mixtapes” published by jwz.  But I joined the Internet in an era before all of that – an era in which the written word was almost all there WAS on the Internet for expression.

It seems to me that, in a lot of ways, communication on the Internet is packaged into tiny pieces.  140-character tweets, usually with some pithy comment and a link to someone else’s content.  On Facebook, you may see a sentence or two more — but not usually that much more…  and a link to someone else’s content.  On and on it goes…  And “someone else’s content?”  It’s often as not a picture of a cat with some text (occasionally hilarious, more often just amusing) superimposed on the image.  Most people on the Internet, and maybe in real life, seem to be writing less, not more.  And with what they are writing, they seem to be saying nothing.

So now I will try and reverse that small trend in my corner of the universe.  Will I be good at it?  I don’t know.  Andy Rooney was a writer, although all I ever “read” of his writing so far were his commentaries at the end of 60 Minutes.  Another writer who I’m getting to know only after his death is Gene Amole, a columnist for the (now defunct) Rocky Mountain News, who used his column to write about his last days before passing.  Those columns were collected in a book I own but have yet to read completely — but even reading certain selections from them, they read well.  And there are others I read, who are still alive — I’ll mention them at times as well.   I know that as I go forth, my voice will occasionally sound like others.  I am still finding my way, and they say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

So imitate I may – maybe sometimes I can improve upon a method, sometimes not.  But hopefully, my content will regularly be more than some cat asking for a “cheezburger.”

Posted February 26, 2012 by mec in Uncategorized

Hello world!   1 comment

Hello, World.

Funny how the traditions stay with you.  In computing, a “hello world” program is usually the first program one writes in a new language, to show that it actually works.  I’ve written my fair share of them.  Still, it’s amazing to show to oneself that the language actually works, and that you can do something — anything — with it.

So, here I am.  Nearly 15 years of owning the dotorg.org domain, and finally putting some content on the front page.  Of course, I’ve done the blogging thing before, with various levels of success and commitment.  Some of them are still up, and I contribute to them from time to time.  Yet, every time, it seems to fizzle out.  Lack of interest?  Lack of time?  I really don’t know.  I don’t know if this effort will fare any better, or if it will fade away into the mists of the Internet like so much else done by myself and others.  Yet here I am, trying my hand at this again.

Thanks for joining.  I hope it’s a fun ride.

Posted February 26, 2012 by mec in Uncategorized