An indicator that even Google may have concerns on how much it knows is the announcement by Google that it will block all facial recognition software on its favorite current project, Google Glass, until privacy issues are addressed.
Some information must be shared with Google if you wish to fully benefit from the various Google services. Given this, many people do give complete access but perhaps this behavior is overly trusting. Let us examine why this is so.
There Are Two Googles
To understand the potential perils in this privacy question with Google, it is important to realize that there are really two Googles. One is corporate Google including all the individuals who work for Google. For simplicity we will use Google when we are talking about this corporate Google. The other is the Google search engine. For simplicity we will use the name Goggle when we are talking about this Google search engine. As we describe these in greater detail, perhaps you will understand why we suggest that Google and Goggle have similarities with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as portrayed by Robert Louis Stevenson.
The Corporate Google – Google
Who has not heard of that immensely successful corporation, Google. It dominates the search field and around this core activity has created a financially successful company based on advertising. You can find more details in the company overview on its website. It is a company based on technology founded by two doctors from Stanford, which has hired a huge array of other extremely bright people including many doctors.
As a company, its mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. That might be a somewhat worrying goal to the rest of us but in general the people in Google seem to have high ethical standards. Indeed at one time their mantra was ‘Do No Evil‘. Surely we have nothing to worry about here.
The Google Search Engine – Goggle
Only a minority of the population are probably aware of the company details discussed in the previous paragraph. However almost everyone has heard of or uses the other Google, the search engine. When someone needs an answer, they are often advised by their colleagues to use Google to find the answer. In this article we are using a short name for this Google search engine, Goggle, but we should emphasize that this is not a word that Google uses to describe its search engine.
A search engine is software that runs in this case on banks of computers as illustrated in the Goggle image below. Goggle has server farms like this around the world connected in networks. Surprisingly these computers are in essence no different from that first programmable computer that Charles Babbage was developing in his lifetime before 1871.
It goes without saying that the system is billions of time more powerful than Babbage’s machine and works with billions of times more data. However in response to an input command or query, Goggle calculates by its internal logic the most appropriate response. There is no human intervention involved in outputting the response.
Of course after Goggle spits out its answer, the Google engineers may well consider whether or not this is the most appropriate answer that Goggle could have produced. Clearly this would be impossible to do for each individual query but is done in the aggregate and considering whether users seem to find the answers satisfactory. If an individual answer is wrong there is no easy way to be aware of this or to correct it.
Goggle works extremely fast and in general keeps many users satisfied with the answers, which is why Goggle has the majority share in the search market. The spoiler in this situation is that Google revealed that links into websites are an important factor in whether web pages will appear early in the search results. Unfortunately this has meant that a significant number of website owners have resorted to spam methods to create vast numbers of links. As a result the Google engineers often have many hundreds of improvements to Goggle in any given year. This is an indication that there is always room for improvement in Goggle’s results and conversely that there will be a proportion of answers which are wrong.
Not To Be Confused With Google Goggles
Some may be aware that there is an app for mobile devices (iPhones, iPads, Android phones and tablets) called Google Goggles.
This has nothing at all to do with the Goggle we are reviewing here. Google Goggles allows you to take a picture of an object in front of you and the app will then attempt to search the web and give you information on that object. It works well with Text, Landmarks, Books, Contact Info, Artwork, Wine and Logos as examples.
Who Knows What Goggle Really Knows
Certainly the Google engineers can predict with a reasonable degree of certainty what Goggle is likely to know about any given entity, be that a person, a place, an association and so on. However there will be many mistakes even though this may be a small proportion of the total information base.
One feature of Goggle that the Google engineers seem particularly proud about is the Knowledge Graph.
We announced the Knowledge Graph – our map of real-world people, places and things – less than a year ago and since then have been adding more depth. With just the tap of a mic or flick of a finger, millions of people across the world can easily tap into the entire world’s knowledge and find what they need to make their lives better, or just have their day run a little smoother. That’s why we’re so excited about the new search experience we’re building at Google and it will change how we experience life.
Bold words and a challenge to live up to. However it does raise the fear that Goggle may know too much about us.
The further fear is that no one will know that Goggle knows perhaps damaging information until it delivers such information to someone else who is doing a search. It is not obvious how any individual can become aware of such damaging information and eliminate it before others may have seen it.
We Welcome 1984 With Open Arms
In discussing this with Gail Gardner (GrowMap), she likened this to the situation described in George Orwell’s book, 1984. In that case people were concerned that the state would know too much about them and tried hard to avoid such information being picked up by the state’s microphones or by the many checkpoints as they travelled around.
Now so many people with their desktop PCs or with their mobile devices allow Goggle to follow their every move on the Internet. They do that in order to benefit from the many free services that Google provides. However at the same time they allow Goggle to build up a bank of information about them that is much more complete and detailed than any state could possibly assemble. Viewed in that light, Goggle’s operations certainly create some real concerns both for us and indeed for Google.