If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place
-- Google CEO Eric Schmidt, 2009
With Halloween upon us, spooks and specters are in the air, but while traditional ghosts and ghoulies may be scaring the bejesus out of folks, a far more pervasive and frightening force exists all around us " its evil designs difficult to fathom, hidden behind a guise of good intentions
Seemingly benign, faithfully at our fingertips, Google poses as a good fairy that's here to help " to quench our thirst for instant knowledge and ease the difficulties of our daily lives.
The truth, however, is far more sinister. All-knowing, immortal and infinite, Google is a God hell-bent on taking over the world.
The signs are already there in its words and actions to date. The spine tingles; the body shudders. Here are the 7 creepiest things Google says, does and has planned for us all.
7.Google Search Engine
Arguably the scariest thing about Google lies at the very core of its business: its quest to organize and control every single little bit of information in the world. That's right, in the entire world.
In 2005, Google CEO Eric Schmidt said:
It will take, current estimate, 300 years to organize all of the world's information."
Put simply, our hunger for knowledge feeds Google's hunger for knowledge about us. When you interact with Googles properties, they record what you searched for and when, and which websites and ads you clicked on, ceaselessly collecting data about us. No wonder Google has been called the greatest threat to privacy ever known. Every time you use it, it crawls your soul.
Google sends us tiny files, innocently named cookies, that it stores on our computers and recognizes when we revisit sites. In this way it follows our online movements. Google's not-so-yummy cookies are also loaded with preservatives: up until 2007, they didn't expire until 2038, and while now they have a two-year expiration date, this is automatically extended if you visit Google again within that time. For some that's still a scarily long time to be retaining information about us.
Users of Gmail can also sleep soundly knowing Google keeps copies of every email sent or received, while anyone who uses the big G's range of other products also has tabs kept on their activities.
Targeted ads today, but what about tomorrow? Could Google collate this information into individual profiles on us? It's certainly a possibility.
6. Driverless Car
A self-driving car? Sounds like a cool idea, right? Wrong. Don't know about you, but when we think of driverless cars, we think Stephen King's Carrie and other malevolent ghosts in the machine.
Combining navigation equipment with video cameras plus externally fitted laser and radar sensors, the first fleet of cars has already been tested and driven thousands of miles without human help. Google reckons the system will decrease the amount of accidents on the road, and in fairness it does sound like a safeguard against falling asleep at the wheel. Still, we can't help but wonder...
Sure, the driverless car allows the 'driver' to take control by hitting the brakes or taking the wheel, but what if a system error has already guided them into a lake as happened the time GPS got it wrong, drowning the driver? Call us old-fashioned, but we'd rather have our life in our own hands.
More insidious still is the idea that in future Google will not only be able to monitor our digital but our physical journeys " knowing where we live, which stores we buy goods at, where our kids go to schools, and when we go to these places. Google's gain? It'll know us inside and out.
5. Philanthropic Smokescreen
Raise objections about Google's increasing influence in our lives and you won't be silenced so much as gently drowned out by flood of irrelevant spin " a subtly terrifying thought in its own way.
Yes, when people raise protest against the search engine giant's will to power, the response is simple " if carefully contrived: Never mind that; look at all the great things we're doing. You've got to hand it to the Google's PR people (God knows, it can afford the best) because the person on the street could be forgiven for thinking the sun shines out if its unholy twin OO's.
Google is forever painting a picture of its own humanitarianism. It even has a google.org, a division dedicated to technology-driven philanthropy which faces global challenges " its projects ranging from crisis response to events like the Deepwater oil spill, to a power meter that lets you monitor energy consumption in your home.
The cynical might wonder: why? Is funding such ventures done out of a heartfelt desire to do good or is it rather part of strategy to look good in the public eye and stay safely on the moral high ground when criticism is aimed its way? You decide...
4. Google Price Index
Step aside Gordon Gekkos of this world: the reign of mere men like you will soon be over: Google has just launched Google Price Index, part of the company's advance into economic forecasting.
Armed with its ever-growing stockpile of online shopping data, gleamed from the daily searches we make, and prices we pay, for goods and services, Google is busy creating a price index that can be used to measure inflation. And because it works in real-time it could soon be a step ahead of official stats. Of course, from detecting economic trends with greater accuracy it's just a small step to anticipating what will happen next " before anyone else, including government agencies, can.
It's a frightening thought that one single corporation will have the power to see the economic future more clearly than everyone else. Google's chief economist Hal Varian has downplayed this work as predicting the present, but we sense he's just being coy. Is a Google monopoly on economic data the brave new world into which we're headed? Cue evil disembodied laugh.
3. Google Earth
Google Earth has wowed internet users since its launch in 2005, but beneath the wonder of feeling like you're the eye in the sky lies an inescapable truth: Google is the eye. And it's watching us all.
Using images scraped from satellite imagery, aerial photography and more, Google Earth already has a virtual map of the entire globe that allows you to "point and zoom to any place on the planet that you want to explore. This picture has been further enhanced at ground level through integration with the ever-expanding recorded images of roads on Google Street View.
Of course, this has serious implications for our right to privacy, not to mention national security. It's no wonder people have voiced misgivings over the free availability of plan-view depictions of their homes, and Google Earth has also come under fire because of the information it provides terrorists about military targets. India and Israel are among the countries concerned " particularly after reports that Hamas used Google Earth to plan rocket attacks and that the gunmen involved in 2008 Mumbai attacks applied the program to familiarize themselves with the location of target buildings.
2. Spy Drones
Google already has the world mapped out with Google Earth and Google Maps. Now it wants to step up its surveillance " invading our privacy still more with furtive flying eyes in the skies...
Yes, the news is the internet monolith is further extending its tendrils beyond the virtual realm and into the heavens, having recently ordered shipments of spy drones from a German company. And Google's gaze just got night-vision goggles too, for the drones are able to see in the dark.
We're told Google has benign designs for its camera drones " they're ideal for gathering image material and advancing the capabilities of Google Maps " but when you hear that these micro-drones are ber-silent and can fly as high as one kilometer in the air you might begin to feel a chill run up your spine. And when you learn that the drones can deliver high-quality live footage from private spaces such as gardens and even see through walls with heat-sensitive cameras, forget wondering what Google will be testing next " and start heading underground.
1. We Know Where You Are...
"With your permission you give us more information about you, about your friends, and we can improve the quality of our searches. We dont need you to type at all. We know where you are. We know where youve been. We can more or less know what youre thinking about.
* our emphasis
These were the very words recently spoken Google CEO Eric Schmidt. Creepy? Err, just a bit " but strangely it's not something Schmidt denies. In the same interview he said: Google policy is to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it. This means that, at least for now, the big G will stop short of placing chips under our skin that track us while (gee, thanks Google!) allowing ease of web access.
However, the problem with the line is that it's not fixed. What's considered creepy now may not be deemed so in a decade's time. Google's position regarding our personal data, despite the caveat, with your permission, is that our approval is tacitly given whenever we use its services. In other words, the onus is on us to opt out of services that focus its searching stare into our private lives; Google isn't going to do it for us. Google's prying eyes appear ever more pernicious.