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I think, therefore I Google: search giant's quest to capture knowledge

Tony Wright (via SMH) | Nov. 29, 2011
If you want to find out something these days, you Google it. But being the planet's go-to search engine just isn't enough for the booming company, which is fast moving towards a radical new technological frontier, writes Tony Wright for the Good Weekend magazine.

That doesn't mean, however, that armies of actual Googlers are checking you out, or are even particularly interested in your name. Jonathan McPhie, privacy lead for Google+, spends half an hour persuading Good Weekend that Google's social network has set new and high privacy standards that place control of what can and can't be seen on sites in the hands of users, and provides the tools to opt in or out of various levels of transparency or even remove posts once they are made. He won't say it, but Google is trying to trump Facebook, which is accused of all sorts of privacy violations.

Only a handful of the most senior and trusted executives, the corporation insists, can get at your data, and they're limited to doing so only when there is a specific request by the user. Your shirt-buying habits and your holiday destinations are locked away in Google's vast data centres where there is almost no human intervention, building patterns of broad behaviour designed to inform and inflame the interest of advertisers.

That's where the treasure lies. Almost all of Google's revenue - more than 95 per cent of it - comes from advertisers desperate to pay serious money to display their wares on screens whenever and wherever someone asks Google to search for information. As Google evolves - its blue-jeaned Googlers trying to keep ahead of the future, finding ways to teach computers to harness knowledge while keeping an eye over their shoulders for anyone with a smarter idea - the corporation insists it doesn't need to trade in your personal data. The knowledge is all it needs, and it gets more of it all the time.

Lead-in illustration by Tyler Jordan/; photography by iStockphoto.

This article first appeared with Good Weekend magazine in Saturday's Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.


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