As a smart investor, I have always admired the way Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) does business. The company has a four-word business plan: Steal everything, pay nothing. Then resell it at a higher price. If only I had thought of that. And Google is always thinking of new things to steal. That’s what makes it so great.
The latest page in its game plan, which may be to steal everything in the universe, is photographing every street in the world. While Google photographers snapped away, the Google Map Street Viewing cars apparently were sucking up unencrypted Internet data on wireless networks, including the content of private communications.
Awesome, I remember thinking at the time when German authorities caught the company red-handed, so to speak, indulging in what some people might call “spying.” European, UK, and US authorities are still investigating the practice that apparently began in 2007.
Some people have managed to
photograph the elusive map car.
I assumed the ambitious plan had been dropped -- until the other day, when my neighbor asked if I had seen the Google car driving around our block in New Jersey. The Google Maps Street View vehicle was an ordinary car, with what looked like a big Dyson ball vacuum cleaner on its roof and an antenna twirling, like something on the tower at Newark International Airport.
No one from Google rang the doorbell to ask permission or show an ID issued by our local police department, granting the photographers permission to engage in door-to-door commercial solicitation. Nothing. In fact, the Google guys were gone before I could even throw an empty garbage can at the car to slow it down.
Despite my admiration for Google, as a concern citizen I am outraged at this invasion of my privacy. Every button I pushed on any device in my house could now be in Google’s hands.
The reason it's doing this snooping, apart for its obsessive mania to collect all information in the universe since the beginning of time, I don’t know for sure. But I’m worried anyway.
I may be paranoid, but Google already has told advertisers what I search for… so these companies can target me when I go out to the supermarket. Interested in mini-Chihuahuas? Well, how about these dog food brands?
Google has already told people how to get to my house by land, sea, or air.
What’s next? Will Google be able to tell what’s in my sock drawer (which might be of interest to sock makers)? Will it some day be showing diagrams of the floor plan of my house, along with books my wife is reading on her Nook?
Now, I realize invasion of privacy does not rank as a priority among most Americans today. Some people actually seem happy their privacy is being invaded, because they think it shows at least somebody cares about them.
And the success of social networks is based on giving the public more than it ever wanted to know -- and then some -- about private lives. There seems to be a whole generation that thinks it's fun taking pictures of everyone in his underwear, on the chance there is some other schnook out there interested in sharing that kind of information.
Will the information accidentally or deliberately sucked up by the Hoovers of the Google Maps Street View cars just gather dust in the Google archives? Will it be as harmless as your old high school yearbooks that you no longer look at?
Sergei Brin and Larry Page, who came up with this marvelous business plan in 1998, are the eighth wonders of the natural world. Maybe ninth, too. I’m sure they will think of some way to make an honest dollar out of it.