Friday, February 3, 2012

Google's new privacy policy will further squelch my social life, and possibly also kill Christmas

So yesterday I saw some screen flash up again from Google concerning the new privacy policy. But I was intent on logging into Gmail to chat my Groundhog Day greetings out to my little social world that I clicked on 'Got it' without really a second glance at all of that carefully crafted text that they had written on the page. Hmm. Looks pretty lean for a privacy policy, but I have a bad feeling. I don't think I'll like this.

And I don't. Just as sure as the groundhog saw his shadow yesterday and we received a generous blanket of snow today. I believe there's another six weeks (well, five weeks and six days) of winter coming.

And there's a serious chilly weather coming on in my social life. Google is going to mix up my Gmail, which is a chaotic mixture of shopping and friends, with my YouTube account, which I use to post video for work. The result is sure to be some weird distorted echo of myself that's neither productive nor fun.

I mean, as kids we do the thing of taking a range of food items out of the refrigerator and putting them in the blender. It starts out a strawberry milkshake, but then you get the idea to add a some capers and a spoonful of peanut butter and then some powdered sugar and a zap of lemon juice. It's fun to mix stuff up but the result is usually pretty gross and the main life lesson we learn with this experiment is that there truly is a reason why we generally like to eat our food in separate dishes and don't mash everything together in the middle of the plate.

Now I have to worry about chats from my friends contaminating the little YouTube garden I have been cultivating on the topic of multimedia information retrieval. Am I going to be looking at my YouTube page with colleagues at work and have to wondering if they will see recommendations for videos of things that I have been chatting about? Is my video recommendation list about to be infected by groundhogs? Other rodents?

Today someone wrote me an email mentioning a Wizards/Raptors game. I have no idea what sport this is: and YouTube's going to be mixing it up with the videos I actually want to see? Am I going to write back and say "Please, include no Wizards or Raptors in your messages to me"? Oh dear, that's really going to go down well with my friends.

For me, it's a cold chill without the mitigating effect of a truly cute and relevant rodent or the promise of a mere six weeks duration.

This year, I will be definitely worrying about accidentally doing a Google search in the presence of one of my family members and having my Christmas shopping list lifted from my email and plunked down in the ads or the personalization of my search results. What happened to surprising people with a unexpected holiday gift? Who would have thought that Google turns out to be the Grinch who Stole Christmas? Do I seriously have to hesitate before spontaneously turning my laptop screen so that someone else can seen my browser and I can help them find something on the Internet?

The New York Times tells us that the EU is pressing Google to delay the new privacy policy until the implications can be better understood. I am not the only one, apparently, with the bad feeling. It looks lean, but its not at all a reassuring lean.

Social media is about the joy of the spur of the moment chat -- and what I have right now is a bad taste in my mouth. My natural human urge to share spontaneous Groundhog greetings prompted me initially to click right through the page of information on the new privacy policy without reading it in detail. That was not a responsible click. That bad taste is not only the oncoming strawberry, caper, peanut butter milkshake, but also the yet further erosion of my ability to trust my social intuitions of what topics to raise when with whom. Google seems to want to help make that decision for me.

It looks like I'll be pulling the adjective 'insidious' off the shelf, dusting it off and using it more often.

Just look at this blog post: it's rodents, raptors, strawberries, videos and snow. Any algorithm that's trying to make me a content recommendation on the basis of this text is going to come up with 'quirky', nothing more. Mix all my personal stuff together, Google, and you get...well, useless mud: It is useless, strawberry flavored mud with perhaps a hint of groundhog. You don't need this stuff Google. Think of something else and don't send you privacy policy off in completely the wrong direction.