It’s been a while since my last post — I on spring break watching the Cyprus meltdown — but I’m back after reading an interesting piece by Evgeny Morozov in the April 5th FT. Mororoz makes the argument that as convenient as Google’s search technology is, the company’s vision for a privacy-freee future is not worth the price.
As Morozov notes, for years Google has been aggregating its various data sources for sound business reasons. However, he goes on to note:
“…there is another reason, of course – and it has to do with the Grand Implant Agenda: the more Google knows about us, the easier it can make predictions about what we want – or will want in the near future. Google Now, the company’s latest offering, is meant to do just that: by tracking our every email, appointment and social networking activity, it can predict where we need to be, when, and with whom. Perhaps, it might even order a car to drive us there – the whole point is to relieve us of active decision-making. The implant future is already here – it’s just not evenly resisted.”
For Morozov the vision of an omniescent entity that burrows itself — perhaps literally — into our brains is too much to take:
Engineering, as the tech historian Ken Alder once put it, “operates on a simple, but radical assumption: that the present is nothing more than the raw material from which to construct a better future”. This might well be the case but not all raw materials are alike; if European history teaches us anything, it’s that some raw materials – and privacy is certainly among them – are worth cherishing and preserving in their own right, even if it means that the much-anticipated future will take somewhat more effort and energy to construct. A revolutionary future built on shaky foundations: to that, we must say a resounding No.
Personally, I happen to agree with Morozov that being able to find a restaurant in a few clocks is a cheap payment for giving up my privacy, but then again I am over 40 so I grew up in an age when the concept of privacy was an almost sacred idea. This is simply not the case with people under 25 today — something I notice from my work with undergrad and MBA students. They have not inherited the “privacy gene” and this baffles older people to no end, for to them it was something innate to humans.
Perhaps the rise of Google, and the death of privacy, is simply a revelation as much about ourselves as about our world. If that’s the case, Morozov’s argument just a rhetorical paddle against a social current that neither the EU (whom he calls to action) nor individuals can stop.
“Privacy is dead. Get over it,” said Scott McNealey in 2006. That’s probably true, but it does not mean it has to stay dead. Maybe the point Morozov has to argue for is the creation of an “anti-Google” – a technology that will create privacy and sell it as a product. That company could invent ways to delete our data from Google’s servers and keep our searches and emails private. In fact, this is such a good idea that I predict the creation of the privacy market in the next decade. If I’m right, then the sooner Google pushes us to the limit of the privacy-free world, the sooner the anti-Google will be born.
FT subscribers can read the full piece here: