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March 18, 2008

You Say Big Brother, I Say Friendly Neighborhood Peeping Tom Bearing Gifts

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Today Google proved to me they know who I am! Let me explain. I’m new to the search game and the past few months I’ve soaked up the SEO theory like a slug in a bowl of beer. [Ew. --Susan] I’ve found one of the most fascinating aspects of the search industry to be the evolution, or should I say revolution, of blended, behavioral, and personalized search.

One recent evening I even jumped on the opportunity to riff on search developments with a programmer friend of mine. As others watched on, less than intrigued, I realized my nerd was showing. Still, you’re allowed to let your job infiltrate your personal life, and doing so willingly is a good sign that you enjoy your job. Right?

Well, this morning I was surprised to see that my personal life and my job melded in a new and unexpected way. Upon opening my Google Reader I was greeted with two Syracuse-related feeds as top recommendations. I attended Syracuse University last year and regularly check up on our basketball team (don’t laugh) and news in the city paper. Because I only read these things at home I was a confused about why my work computer knew of my little habit.

Drawing on what I’ve learned about the search giant so far, it didn’t take me long to realize what happened. I must have been signed into my feed reader as I looked at Syracuse stuff. Yes, I gave Google the ability to spy on my online world, and you know what? I think I like it. Not because a company may come to know more about me than my own mother – to the contrary, I can understand why people might turn off their Web history to avoid being plugged into the matrix.

It’s simply that I can see flying cars and teletransporters and the set of Back to the Future 2 materializing in front of me! Artificial intelligence and retina scan security systems are around the corner, and it all starts with my Web searches delivering me exactly the results I’m looking for based on my taste and preferences.

Of course privacy concerns play a big role in this conversation. I’m not a fan of recent proposals for a national ID system and 1984 is practically a fate worse than death. But it’s not the federal government taking notes of my likes and dislikes, backed by the power to jail or torture me if I’m caught doing wrong. It’s a private company who would rather make money than tell me what to do. As I see it, Google will passively take my information until they can offer me the sweet Stella McCartney slingbacks I dreamed about last night. At which point I can either order them and hold my breath until they arrive at my door or (more likely) say “I wish” and ogle the beauty before closing the browser window. Either way, I see a win-win situation.

Like I said, I’m new to the game, so if someone can tell me why it’s better to hide my browsing behavior from watchful eyes, please leave a comment. Until I have reason to believe that I’m not the one benefiting from Google’s awesome power at least as much as they are, I’ll let big brother search get to know me for a while longer. [They're so cute when they're young and naive, aren't they? Be nice, guys. --Susan]





5 responses to “You Say Big Brother, I Say Friendly Neighborhood Peeping Tom Bearing Gifts”

  1. Matt Cutts writes:

    Go Orangemen! I think stuff like this is useful for regular users.

  2. Ann Smarty writes:

    Love it or hate it, this is not going to stop I guess.

  3. Lisa writes:

    I’m with Susan on this one (did I really just say that?). It’s way cute to witness Virginia going through her n00b “Google’s just trying to help” phase. The feelings of intense Google bitterness don’t kick in until about three months from now. Enjoy it while it lasts, V! :)

  4. Eric Lander writes:

    It pains me to say this, but… I agree with Matt.
    Personalized search and intelligent topic matching on products like Reader are all useful elements for regular users.
    One of the “problems” with personalized search is my struggle to separate work and personal life. Like you, I enjoy my job. Because of that, work and personal life tend to blend in how I use Google’s various products.
    Google, understandably, sees my personal and professional interests as one in the same. While that’s delivering me a more enjoyable experience with these products — it could also serve as a distraction.
    Either way, if you love your new job and you’re already finding yourself geeked up outside of the office – congratulations. Search is a fascinating space and I’m sure there will be dozens of new innovations that the engines will impress you with.

  5. handsome rob writes:

    The information that has been collected about me over the years is abused far more often by advertisers than by the government.

    I assume you’ve seen Minority Report? The subway station scene with the eye-scanning advertisements? Ya.

    Welcome to the BC family!



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