When is too much Google too much?

Too Much Of  A Good Thing?

Google started with a better web search.  It was a simple idea with a hugely complex back-end.  They took the perception that searching for something should be easy, and they turned that in to a reality.  Those with good “Google Fu” can leverage that simplicity even further with their searches to very quickly narrow down their search to what they are looking to find.  We watched Google, the veritable “David”, grow and become the dominant search provider over the Goliaths of the time, Yahoo and AOL.

Being an entirely IT centric organization, Google of that time spoke to the inner geek in all of us, and we either openly or secretly applauded every success as the underdog became the top dog.  In order for Google to grow further, it needed to expand its services and diversify.  Ah, the joys of answering to wall street as a publicly traded company mean that they need to not only continue to make money, but they need to continue to make more money than they previously did.  The stock market is the largest legalized gambling in the world, and ironically that gambling drives the direction, directly or indirectly, of public companies such as Google.

We watched Google grow, either through expansion (purchase of Grand Central which is now Google Voice, for example) or creation (Google Mail).  New services came along, always in “Beta” for seemingly forever, which gave Google an easy out when it didn’t work well.  Something Apple should have taken note of before getting the black eye of their Maps app.  One thing people seem to miss in that whole debacle: Google’s maps are far from perfect, too.

Out of nowhere, the realization hits that Google is everywhere.  With each new addition to their repertoire, from the search engine to the desktop web browser and even out to the phones that many people use, their grip on their customers got broader and tighter.  Beyond the individuals, companies have moved their web sites to Google, even their mail and once local storage to the Google “cloud”.  Even large portions of the US Government are completely dependent upon Google for file storage and email, and any efforts to undo that dependency would be extremely expensive and extremely difficult.

“The Man”

Quite suddenly, Google supplanted Microsoft as “The Man”, that’s with a capital T and a capital M.  And that isn’t a good to say.  There have been reports of Google tracking users in ways that eclipse any tracking that the iPhone ever did, and some have even begun documenting ways to keep from having Google knowing too much about them.  In an interesting twist of irony, Google is even being reported as tracking iPhone users.  That can be fluffed off by any large corporation as negative propaganda or by the user community as being tagged as a “hater”.  Yet it should bring about some pause in the line of thinking for both individuals and companies: How much is too much for any single company to know about you or your company?

Many people born post 1995 do not have a sense of privacy when it comes to information about them.  The value is lost upon them, and, as such, they simply do not care.  They have been brought up in a world of easily accessible information, and, akin to the days before where teenagers and 20-somethings would do crazy stunts because of that feeling of invincibility, they too feel invincible to having their privacy displayed for all to see.  Photos and youtube videos, kik, instant messages, SMS, and others are all filled with people doing or saying stuff that, well, probably shouldn’t be out there for all to see now or for the years to come.  We are even seeing extremes of the carefree attitude towards private moments in the news where people and towns are torn apart by the misuse of the information out there.

Google isn’t perfect.  No one, and definitely no company, is.  Google has experienced breeches in security that went undetected for some time and no one knows what data was accessed or potentially altered.  It all raises the question: is it really a good idea to put all of your information in one place?  That question is beyond just the Google experience as it can be applied to an individual having everyone on a single computer at home to a company having all of the equipment hosted in a single data center.  Certainly there has to be a level of trust at some point, but the cynic in me says that trust should only go so far.

Basic security measures tell us that, as a individual, you should never use the same password for all of your web sites (Facebook, LinkedIn, Your Bank, AOL Instant Messenger, etc).  All it takes is for one site to get hacked, which happens more frequently than we would like to admit, and now someone has a potential key to access all of your information, most importantly your financial information. To be clear: the goal is to make money.  The more information out there makes it easier for that money to be made maliciously.

This isn’t to say that Google is malicious.  Their motto is the friendly “Do No Evil”, yet one must ask themselves if they are falling for marketing.  Google is a company, after all, out to make money.  In their case, tons of money, and there have been questions regarding their ability to get that money while skirting the law.  The reality is that all companies, no matter how ethical or moral, are out to make money.  If they can’t, they don’t survive.  Google has the right direction for a company: pull you in to the Google universe (just like Facebook and more like AOL) to make as much money from you, as their consumer (individual or company), as they can, and to make every effort to keep you in that universe.

When is it all too much?

That’s for you to decide since it has to be something that you, as the CTO of your company or the CTO of your household, must be comfortable with as you balance all of the pros and cons.  Regardless of how deep down the rabbit hole you go, carefully consider is how difficult, or costly, it may be it is to get your data OUT of Google, and when you take it out, is it truly in your hands only when you are all done?

For me personally, I’ll continue to use Google services when they are the appropriate tool for the job, and I will continue to use other services when those are the right tools for the job.  I like the efficiency of consolidation, but if the price of the risk behind that consolidation is too high, it tells me that is not the right path to take.

For me in an IT leadership position, I cannot yet swallow the jagged pill of Google for all services alone.  If I am to move our corporate services to the cloud, I have to make sure the business continuity plan is updated accordingly and that there are secondary services ready and waiting.  It’s our data, so we need to have access to our data when we want it.

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