Google snapped up reCAPTCHA recently. I’m feeling worried. As well, I must have been in a news bubble there, but they also acquired FeedBurner, in, like, 2007. They just re-branded it recently, which is probably why I didn’t notice.
Now, I don’t put on the tinfoil hat very often, but Google keeps snapping up large wedges of the internet traffic pie. I’m getting more and more confident that Google wants to monitor all of your internet activities, all the time. Their goal, to provide the best targetted advertising, means they need to understand their users better. And to understand their users better, they need to watch everything they do.
It all started, surreptitiously enough, with the Google Toolbar. Sure, the toolbar sends every page view (URL) back to Google so they can report Page Rank, the marketing nerd’s “Hot or not” number. Seemed benign enough at the time. But sending them every URL you’re looking at is gravy for determining your interests and habits. Because, of course, they have a copy of every web page out there and have a general idea of what’s on it. That was happening back in 2003, and we’re now in 2009 and things are much, much worse.
Each acquisition they have made has been the purchase (and centralization) of a massive amount of traffic. YouTube, DoubleClick, now reCaptcha all add a massive amount of new traffic which they can now monitor. The free and sexy Google Analytics means that webmasters voluntarily give up their traffic and page views back to Google.
As I already stated, they currently have access to monitor 9 out of every 10 pages.
With FeedBurner, they also know when you read a news article from your news reader (that is, click through). And because everything goes through the Google.com top-level domain, they can tag you with a cookie to treat you uniquely everywhere you go.
Another interesting tidbit: FireFox uses Google.com services to manage Anti-Phishing and Anti-Malware lists. Now, I’m not 100% certain, but it does inform Google when you’re browsing the internet, but it doesn’t inform them which pages you are viewing. It downloads a list of known malware sites every 30 minutes. To see the URLs it uses, type about:config in your FireFox address bar, click past the scary warning, and type in “google” in the search bar at the top of the page (not the browser). Right now it’s:
(There are like 5 other URLs)
Anti-Phishing and Anti-Malware, obviously, is intended to be for our benefit, but if Google was truly benevolent, they would put it on an alternate domain name so they couldn’t track our usage, no?
Unfortunately, I don’t have any pithy advice or sage wisdom about what to do about it. Google is becoming more and more powerful, and over time, pissing off more and more people. I have been switching my search engine regularly.
Microsoft held a similar place of distrust in my mind during the 90s and early 00s, but I switched to Mac, and now only raised an eyebrow to Cupertino on occasion.
Just remember: There’s no such thing as a free lunch.