Google: Friend or Foe?

When we were little, we asked mum everything from why the sky is blue to where our favourite sock was. These days, kids (and adults) just ask Google. And with so much voice-activated AI in our homes, we can probably get an answer from Siri, Alexa, or Cortana. It may be cool to hear that disembodied voice tell you exactly where your toothbrush is, but is it worth the risk of the eventual robot apocalypse?

Search engines and related technology – including the internet of things –play a big role in our lives. We often ignore this role, not actively thinking about the influence it can have. After all, we already have the vague notion that Google knows more about us than our significant other, or even our mother. Still, in recent times, we’re paying more attention to how much of our data is ‘out there’ on the web.

To de-activate or not to de-activate

Some respond with a call to kill social media accounts and eliminate cyber footprints. But … one, it’s hard to completely wipe out your online presence. Reputation management firms can scour the internet (for a price), but they can’t wipe it clean. And two, many of us don’t want to give up our online existence. It’s too important to us. So when we receive those privacy emails, we click on ‘read and agreed’ just like we did before.

Web companies are responding differently to Europe’s new General Data Protection Law (GDPR). Some – like Slack and Facebook – have offered new tools for reviewing your data and deleting it if you want to. Others have shut down, temporarily or permanently. Either way, review your privacy settings. And as for all those emails from services you no longer use, you might want to unsubscribe and revoke access … just to be safe.

Much ado about search engines

As for Google itself, it’s became enmeshed throughout our lives. Many of us use Google Drive for data storage, Gmail for personal and corporate email, Google Calendars to plan or schedules … and we’d literally be lost without Google Maps. Of course the downside of this is Google knows all our secrets, dirty or otherwise.

Glance at your Google stats. You’ll see they have your active phone number, a list of places you visit regularly, and even consistently updated routes of your commute. You could argue that collecting all this information helps the products work better for you. It’s also a little creepy that someone can sit at a computer and get exact details of your daily travel path.

Search for business needs

On the other hand, Google is the most frequent way that new customers discover your business. As a customer, you use it to verify before you buy, benevolently surveilling everyone else. Plus, while the constantly changing search algorithms drive SEO experts to abstraction, it’s a benefit for the average user.

Algorithm updates force SEO teams to replace tips, tricks, fluff, and churn with genuine, helpful, high quality content, which makes the web better for everyone. It seems the pros outweigh the cons after all.

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