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Should you trust Google?

Paul Venezia | July 6, 2010
Most people are nervous about handing over data responsibility to a cloud service provider

It's not the first time that I've had this question on my mind, but reading Matt Prigge's post last week -- which echoed my own sentiments about cloud computing -- led me to contemplate why we seem to consider Google's cloud more trustworthy than others.

Nobody pushes cloud computing harder than Google: Gmail, Google Docs, Google Apps, Google this, Google that. It's all based on a framework of remote resources and an amorphous blob of processing that's been tuned to spit out whatever we happen to be looking for, accept whatever documents we create, and send email and IM messages. And unlike so many other cloud service providers, Google seems to be accepted in this role, while others inspire skepticism.

Most people have heard Google's corporate motto, "Do no evil," which has been challenged again and again, from censorship in China right up to Google Street View cars detecting and cataloging nearby Wi-Fi networks. Google claims the latter was inadvertent, but the company is still in hot water for it.

Nonetheless, Google is going a step further. To feed Google Places, it's placing cameras in certain public places and establishments, so you'll be able to view the interior of a restaurant, say, before heading out for dinner. And this seems perfectly fine to most people. I wonder what the reaction would be if Microsoft or Oracle tried the same thing? Would it be all roses and sunshine, or would people look at some crusty, beady-eyed Oracle guy and send him packing?

Somehow, Google has convinced the world that the company isn't, in fact, evil. That's despite the fact that Google is the most powerful force on the Internet today -- a position that companies with different corporate mentalities might wield like a truncheon.

But Google steps lightly and presumes nothing. The famously sparse home page remains free of ads and clutter -- a design so beloved that when Google introduced a Microsoft Bing-like background image a few weeks ago, the Internet exploded with outrage, and the situation was quickly reversed. But screaming about background images is like yelling at a prison guard for the quality of the food: You're still under lock and key, even if the consistency of the pudding improves.

Recently I've noted how much Facebook knows about you, but make no mistake, Google knows plenty, too. Based on IP information, they know your searches, naturally, but they also know everything you do with Google tools. Planning a trip? They know where you're going and how you're getting there if you use Google Maps and directions. Correlate that information with keywords in messages in your Gmail account and you can determine times, companions, specific destinations, the whole works. Use Google Maps on your smartphone and, technically, they could track your progress.


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