Googled Over: How Promiscuous Is Your Data

I have been stewing on some thoughts of my own about Google ever since I had heard about Gears so I decided to wait to respond fully to Kyle’s post this week. It is a slideshare response. Enjoy!


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Android, chrome, Gears, gmail, google apps, google search

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This post was written by:

Nikki Massaro Kauffman

Nikki Massaro Kauffman - who has written 42 posts on .eduGuru

Nikki is a multimedia specialist with Penn State's World Campus Learning Design unit, creating and editing multimedia for online courses.

Previously, she was technology training coordinator with the Penn State University Libraries, responsible for technology training offered in the Libraries' 20+ departments and 30+ library locations.  

Over the years, she's been she served as an interim associate director of instructional technology and multimedia, a programmer, a database specialist, a Microsoft Certified Master Instructor, a continuing education instructor for seniors and adults with disabilities, and a high school English and communications technology teacher.  

Her interests are in the areas where technology, training, and communication intersect.  She holds degrees in both computer science and in education.  She is also an insomniac and an extreme extrovert with an indiscriminate love of language (including expletives).


9 Responses to “Googled Over: How Promiscuous Is Your Data”

  1. Avatar image
    Brad Czerniak Says:

    While it’s certainly true that people notice when Google services go down, and it’s fairly inconvenient, pointing out these rather insignificant outages doesn’t speak to the 99%+ uptimes Google actually has. It’s a miracle, given the sheer scale of their traffic.

    Also, while TOS statements seem scary in the one sense, it may be more worthwhile to look at the Google Apps terms, as they would be more applicable to an enterprise-level implementation.

    You ask if bigger is better — that’s a valid question, but the development of a monopoly without predatory techniques (they just provide goods and services that people want; bastards!) points to scale being a factor in their success. They were able to get big, fast — and it’s working for them. I may be apt to argue that Google is a natural monopoly, like utilities, at least at this stage of the game.

    Could you carry the financial analogy any further? You place a whole heck of a lot of blame on the banks (ignoring the whole-market reasons for collapse and ensuing bank failures), but naturally you’d have to look at the myriad personal and business failures that led to the financial crisis. I guess that wouldn’t really play into your analogy very well, that in-house development would fail first before a major provider would collapse.

    If you look at many of the aforementioned glitches and outages for particular services, you’ll notice that they’re geographically-dependent. That’s because Google has datacenters all around the world — in practice it’s not feasible for all of Google to go down for everyone. They have hugely redundant data policies to go along with those centers as well.

    Yes, it’s important to take stock before implementing a new service at any appreciable level. However, this presentation is just sensationalism for sensationalism’s sake. I hope I have not been unfair in my criticism.

    Reply

  2. Avatar image
    Nikki Massaro Kauffman (author) Says:

    @Brad: While the outages are admittedly small compared to the up-time, the point I’m trying to make here is that people have come to depend on Google for a variety of services and Google’s own terms of service warn us that it is may stop providing these services at any time.

    As far as the banking analogy, I stand by it. I make no judgment or place no blame on who created the problem. Like with technology, if we bank all of our proprietary data into one provider without checking the terms of service, without having some form of redundancy, without checking the legal policies of your workplace concerning acceptable use and intellectual property, we are personally complicit (much like people play their part in their own finances).

    I never said Google is wrong or that we should take everything out of Google (read the last slide), we as consumers flock to simple solutions without looking at the find print, expecting that the company will always serve our best interest, even if when we’re getting a free service. We can use services responsibly if we take pains to educate ourselves and learn a bit about the products themselves. It’s important to think about the potential for any disaster (including leaving your work to your own personal machine or to a small IT department) and to have a broader backup plan. Those lessons from this financial crisis transfer, don’t they?

    Reply

    • Avatar image
      Nikki Massaro Kauffman (author) Says:

      While the outages are admittedly small compared to the up-time, the point I’m trying to make here is that people have come to depend on Google for a variety of services and Google’s own terms of service warn us that it is may stop providing these services at any time.

      As far as the banking analogy, I stand by it. I make no judgment or place no blame on who created the problem. Like with technology, if we bank all of our proprietary data into one provider without checking the terms of service, without having some form of redundancy, without checking the legal policies of your workplace concerning acceptable use and intellectual property, we are personally complicit (much like people play their part in their own finances).

      I never said Google is wrong or that we should take everything out of Google (read the last slide), we as consumers flock to simple solutions without looking at the find print, expecting that the company will always serve our best interest, even if when we’re getting a free service. We can use services responsibly if we take pains to educate ourselves and learn a bit about the products themselves. It’s important to think about the potential for any disaster (including leaving your work to your own personal machine or to a small IT department) and to have a broader backup plan. Those lessons from this financial crisis transfer, don’t they?

      Reply

  3. Avatar image
    Kyle James Says:

    @Brad - I think you are sort of missing the whole point that Nikki and I are making. Google offers great services at rock bottom prices, you simply can’t beat free, but the question that we are posing is how safe is it for one company to hold that much information? At this point in the game this one advertising, yes advertising, company holds more data than any other entity and they use it to data mine us. Doesn’t this worry you a little giving them more and more information?

    Love the slides Nikki!

    Reply

  4. Avatar image
    Brad Czerniak Says:

    @Kyle - Please forgive me if this seems harsh — I’m not a comment flamer, just a fan of clear communication.

    The concerns you pose in your comment are not the ones posed in the slides and not what Nikki rebutted to me. I understand what the presentation was getting at, and as Nikki and I briefly conversed on Twitter, I agree that planning is an important part of any business process; reading the legalities of a licensed software product or hosted service are a part of that planning process.

    While it is true that currently Google make the majority of its revenue through advertising, it is unfair to label them as such a company, because the majority of the services they provide focus on search and other end-user services. To ilustrate this point, take a look at one of their earnings statements: in Q4’08, Google made 33.2% of their revenue from non-advertising sources, which amounts to nearly $2 billion. These services include Enterprise Apps, which often don’t include advertising (or the consequent data mining).

    Also, even if I didn’t understand the slides — that’s still not my fault. I’m sure if you gave a presentation based on these slides that you’d say all the stuff you’ve mentioned in the comments, but posting slides on the web means they have to stand alone as a communication source. My qualms with the presentation were based on the sensationalism of the number of failures compared to the information content.

    Reply

  5. Avatar image
    Brad Czerniak Says:

    Correction: somewhere around 30% of revenue is non-search, while 3% (and growing quarterly) comes from non-advertising.

    That still speaks to the attempts to diversify their revenue streams beyond advertising.

    But Google certainly isn’t unique in data mining activites. CVS and Borders both know everything I buy from them, as of course does my credit card company and financial management provider (mint.com), yet I rely on them for what I need.

    If you’re looking for a big brother scenario, Kyle, where’s the post about interest-based ads?

    Reply

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      Kyle James Says:

      So 97% revenue comes from advertising… 1% less than I reported the beginning of the week… that’s some major diversification. ;)

      I agree that data mining isn’t unique or that it’s not a smart business practice. I guess more to the point is that I DON’T think people think or realize that all their activities like this are being data mined. So the point of my article was more the awareness where I believe Nikki was going more for the hit that when Google goes down they have no requirement of uptime and that because their services are free we are at their mercy. There is no doubt they are the kings of scale and working at a company where we think about this on a daily basis I can tell you it presents tons of challenges. The difference is because our clients pay for the services we have requirement to keep uptime… Google is free of that. Should they decide to shut down a service or offering we are at their mercy. Say Gmail no longer makes financial sense to Google and they turn it off. What are people’s recourse besides negative brand appeal.

      I don’t see this happening, but making an assumption that it won’t happen is just as dangerous.

      Reply

  6. Avatar image
    Brad Czerniak Says:

    It’s not even worthwhile to continue this line of discourse, but here’s where your arguments take a left turn:

    For Google Apps Premier edition or, more apropos to this site, Education Edition, the serving of ads is limited to the options laid out by the top-level customer. Is it unreasonable to assume that an education-based site would be most concerned with the Google services created for Educational institutions?

    Those higher-level apps also have provisions for uptime and a reasonable guarantee that they won’t halt at any given time.

    If this were simply a matter of the free services they provide, then yes you would have a point; except as you conceded, Google isn’t going to just stop Gmail tomorrow. Regardless of whether they make money serving ads or charging service-level contracts, it’s in their interest to continue their (popular) services. There are examples of Google stopping services, as I sent Nikki’s way; but in many cases they even provided a way to get user data out before shutting them down — this is a company committed to not being evil after all.

    But is this even really about Google? EULAs and terms and other agreements are widespread on the internet, and a company that charges for services to make 100% of their revenue is just as likely to have downtime and just as likely to discontinue services for whatever reason. It’s the nature of the game. So why pick on Google? Their downtime is well-publicized, but they’re not even that big of an offender.

    As an aside, that puny 3% is hundreds of millions of dollars. They’re headed in the right direction.

    Reply

  7. Avatar image
    Wilson Pon Says:

    The Google is about to launch its latest feature, Google Voice. With this incredible tool, Google is a step further to take over the internet world!

    Reply

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