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J. Edgar Google: Information Is Power + No Accountability

Kudos to Danny Dover's tremendous post: "The evil side of Google? Exploring Google's user data collection" where he comprehensively assembles all the types of personally-sensitive-information that Google routinely collects on Internet and Google users.

  • Mr. Dover also exhibits exceptional clarity of thought in describing Google as "first and foremost a data company" despite conventional wisdom that describes Google as a search engine company or despite Google's description of a technology company. 

Why is J. Edgar Hoover/J. Edgar Google an apt analogy? 

  • First, like J. Edgar Hoover, America's first FBI Director,who had the unprecedented capability to compile personal dossiers on Americans like never before in U.S. history, J. Edgar Google, the first organizer of "the world's information," has more capability to compile more personally-sensitive-information on people than anytime in history.
  • Second, like J. Edgar Hoover, who had so much unaccountable power and secrecy that his abuses of power did not come to light until after his death, J. Edgar Google has minimal accountability for having such exceptional power over information of all kinds. Moreover, J. Edgar Google is among the most secretive and non-transparent public companies in the U.S. -- so much so that Google is commonly referred to as a "black box." 
  • Third, like J. Edgar Hoover took clandestine surveillance and spying on individuals to an unprecedented new level, Google has perfected the world's most pervasive surveillance model to track and compile dossiers of most all user behavior secrets -- so perfect a system that J. Edgar Google can sell advertisers exactly when and where to stalk you and even how to best manipulate your private 'hot buttons.' 

Danny Dover has done a public service in compiling in PDF form all of the dozens of ways that Google collects personnally sensitive information on the ~90% of Internet users worldwide who either use Google's search or view DoubleClick's ads.  

  • He describes the different data collection buckets: click tracking,  forms, cookies, Javascript, and web beacons. 
  • He also catalogues all the information/histories Google compiles including: search history/habits, account info, Toolbar tracking, web-surfing history, stock portfolio tracking, Checkout transactions, YouTube viewing habits, everything Gmail, Calendar info, Docs content, desktop hard-drive searches, GOOG-411 voiceprints, blogging history, Groups private lists, social networking associations, photos, mobile location tracking, Google Earth/Maps/Streetview usage, personal health records, DoubleClick ads clicked, Postini email traffic patterns, GrandCentral voicemail and voiceprints, Notebook content, merchant search, Google analytics, blogs read, news read, and much much more. 

While Danny Dover's post captures the personally-sensitive information Google compiles on individual users, there is a whole other additional area of organizationally-sensitive-information that J. Edgar Google's surveillance model compiles -- that is not captured in Danny Dover's exceptional list: 

  • Advertisers: As the only company in the world that works with 90+% of marketers advertising online, (Google has 1,000,000+ advertisers in its network, Yahoo ~300,000 and Microsoft ~75,000) Google is unique in intimately knowing the marketing strategies, resources, intentions, and demographic biases of most all online advertisers.  
  • Websites: As the only company in the world that has a business relationship with over one million websites worldwide and a business partnership with ~80% of the top 100 websites worldwide, Google is unique in intimately knowing the strategies, resources, intentions and demographic biases of how online content is monetized.
  • Political Campaigns: As the front-page Wall Street Journal article explained, Google is the leading source on how to optimize online advertising for political campaigns. Since Google's service is free, the value to Google must be the private information it collects on the strategies, resources, intentions and demographic biases of most American political campaigns.
  • Keyword Economics: As keywords are the brand-keys to unlock the online advertising market, Google is unique in secretly compiling all the market information for supply, demand and pricing of all keyword/brands/subjects on the Internet. This enables Google to have unique knowledge of the marketplace, which can be used to advantage Google's proprietary businesses or to favor a company/industry ally over a competitive foe.

Bottom line: Information is power. Google controls more personal/organizational-sensitive information than any one entity ever has. And Google operates with minimal accountability.

  • The exceptional potential for Google or outside hackers to abuse sensitive-information for:
    • blackmail or stalking of individuals;
    • anti-competitive behavior;
    • corruption; and/or
    • election tampering... should concern everyone.   

Common sense and the painful historical experience with J. Edgar Hoover tell us that information is power and that unaccountable power over sensitive information -- is nothing but trouble.