Privacy ain’t what it used to be

I don’t recall the exact number but as I recall Google is perhaps surprisingly one of the biggest lobbyist in DC. I know for a fact that Google fights every legal attack from every angle to the bitter end…and in the occasional cases where it loses a claim or dispute because it was clearly mistaken or in the wrong their revenge is mighty and awful. You will never do business with them again…which is tough if your business is based around search. It’s also interesting to note that with the exception of the EU regulators who clearly hate, hate, hates Google and will stop at nothing to pin them down on something all attempts to assault any perceived monopolistic practices by the mighty G are routinely and predictably unsuccessful.

So it was perhaps not much of a surprise to read that yesterday Google successfully fought off potentially millions of Gmail users who were attempting to claim that by programmatically analyzing email within and between Gmail and other email systems for the purposes of ad targeting.  They were claiming that Google was essentially guilty of something between illegal wiretapping and racketeering. The plaintiffs were looking for $100 per day for the period Google has been doing that. In my case I’d be looking to collect upwards of $350,000. The judge refused to allow the various complainers to combine to a massive class action in part because the published T&Cs allow for that practice and in part because the various complaints were apparently too disparate to be lumped together. The Judge left the window open for them to bring individual complaints but the reality is having lost this push it’s going to be hard to rope attorneys in to what looks like a lost cause from day one.

The sad fact is that the majority of Gmail users could neither know nor care if Googles computers are scanning mail for targetable keywords.  The nuances of whether Google opens and scans deleted mail or mail which hasn’t even been opened yet are even further down the path to don’t understand/don’t care.

The last year or so has seen revelation after revelation that those knights in shining armor at the NSA have been reading our mail and texts for years. I suspect that most folk have come to terms with living in what amounts to a goldfish bowl.  A week or so back 60 Minutes covered this whole area of privacy and marketing. It was fascinating to see Morley Safer (a sweet old man who appears to be suffering from terminally long earlobe syndrome) was shocked, shocked to discover that pretty much anything we post on line is being mined for commercial purposes by the online giants. Is anybody honestly surprised by this stuff anymore?  We are surrounded by amazingly useful and powerful online tools and services the vast majority of which are delivered to us users for absolutely free…at the point of use. It made me want to yell at the screen…”Why on earth do you think they are giving us all this terrific stuff?”

The bottom line is that Google, Amazon and the other online giants who create and enable or online world are not charities…we trade privacy for facility routinely. Trying to squeeze that genie back into the bottle is a lost cause. Big brother is watching us….and we don’t really care.


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