By: Hillel Fuld
There have been so many developments in the tech world lately, it was literally difficult for me to choose one to write about. However, at the end of the day, all the new mobile phones announced over the last month, or the new Twitter features released to the tweeting community, are not going to change the future of how we use our computers, Google’s announcements will.
I am not referring to one announcement or another, I am talking about what seems to be an increasing Google dominance of our virtual lives, and how we use our computers. While the desktop and mobile worlds are becoming overly obsessed with software and how many apps are available for this platform or the other, Google is doing what they know best, and they are thinking out of the box. They are not occupying themselves with developing more apps for mobile or desktop, what they are doing is trying to figure out a way to create a world in which 3rd party apps are not needed.
They are moving to the cloud. Google is single handedly responsible for a shift in the way users access their information. While the other large corporations such as Microsoft and Apple are busy developing new operating systems and approving and denying apps to their app store, Google is buying and releasing services that are cloud-based and will enable us to do whatever we are doing now, without slowing down our computers with heavy and unnecessary software.
What is amazing is that Google seems to have covered all their bases, and offers a solution to almost any software need you have. The problem is, and this is just my feeling that grows and intensifies with every Google acquisition/announcement, the more we use these Google products, the more information we trust in the hands of Google. Now I don’t know about you, and maybe I have seen one too many movies, but it seems Google is collecting a little too much information on my every move, and it is starting to make me uncomfortable.
Let’s just take a quick look at what needs Google now fills in our lives. Of course, there is the obvious Web search. Google knows exactly what words you and the rest of the world are searching for. No biggy. What are your interests? Yup, they know that too with Google Reader. Who and what are you emailing? That’s easy, they have Gmail. What do you do with your time? Google Calendar. Remember, why use Outlook and store your information privately, when you can use Google Calendar and store it in the cloud, over which Google has full control?
Moving along, and the list is quite extensive, who are you chatting with? Gmail Chat (assuming you store your chats in Gmail). What movies are you watching? YouTube. Then there is of course the professional side of things with Google Docs. No more “need” to save your documents on your hard drive, why bother? Give them to Google to store. Pictures? “Store it with us in Picasa”.
The list really does go on and on with services such as Blogger, Feedburner, Google Maps, Chrome, Analytics, and many more. However, two of Google’s big announcements this month are really the cause of this post. Google’s dramatic entrance into the world of consumer GPS turn by turn navigation, as well as the announcement of Chrome OS, changes everything.
As if the information available to Google was not enough, they go ahead and enter a totally new industry, the turn by turn navigation for mobile phones, and now they take the expression “knowing your every move” to a whole new level, a literal one. As opposed to many other consumer GPS products, which do not even need to be connected to the internet since the maps are stored locally, Google’s GPS, is updated in “real time” using your phone’s data connection. It would be a totally different story if users would be the ones deciding what to share and what not to share, sort of like a social GPS.
However, what is happening here is that the information about your location is gathered in the cloud automatically, and the turn by turn instructions are then pushed to you from Google. Is it just me or is that kinda creepy? Now I know Google is not the first company to collect information about your location via satellites, in fact, that is what makes GPS technology so amazing. However, somehow when Google is watching you, it just seems different to me, and I don’t mean in a good way.
So, now Google knows where you are at every moment. OK, I know I am being overly dramatic, since this is only true if you are using an Android 2.0 device, but according to experts, it wont be long before Android devices begin to dominate the market. If last year, there were 3 or 4 Android devices from which to choose, we already have more than 20 including the very popular Droid device, as well as Google’s rumored phone, which we should be introduced to soon.
Well, at least there are still companies who provide an alternative. I can always choose to use Outlook for email, Photoshop for pictures, and Microsoft Word for my documents, right? Well, yes and no. Those products are not going anywhere soon, but the new “cool” kid on the block is Google Chrome OS. No more “need” to store anything on your hard drive. Forget everything you know about the way we use our computers, use Chrome OS and you wont even need a hard drive. That is what we are being sold, and a lot of people are buying it. Now, do not get me wrong, the thought of a computer that starts up in 7 seconds is extremely appealing to me, and I would be lying if I said I did not intend to try it out and possibly use Chrome OS. However, I would also be lying if I said that did not worry me.
Once again, maybe I have seen one too many movies, but you know the guys in the streets with the cardboard signs claiming the end is near? You know how they all talk about the corporations ruling and controlling our lives? Well, I do not want to seem crazy, but does not seem so far fetched anymore, does it? Google claims they collect this information for us, so they can provide better services for us based on our needs. To me it seems that what they are doing is less “crowd sourcing” and more acting like a “big brother“, not in the good sense of the word. I am not talking about a big brother who teaches you how to ride a bicycle, I am referring to the popular reality show in which every single move you make is recorded by hundreds of surrounding cameras ( and is borrowed from the George Orwell book, 1984, as a friend pointed out to me).
In conclusion, let me say that, I like Google products, they generally work well. I will even go as far as to say that I do prefer most of them over their desktop based competition. However, we all need to do some serious thinking about where the Web and the software world is heading, and decide if we are comfortable with this new trend. Until last week, the words “cloud computing” was very much a thrown around buzz word. With the release of Chrome OS, it has become a reality, and quite a frightening one.
For a full list of all the information Google knows about you, you can take a look at your Google Dashboard, yup, they are not even trying to hide it! So, is this new shift in the way we use our computers scary to you or I am just being paranoid? What do you think? Would love to hear your insights in the comments!