Yesterday, Google acquired the company Nest and set off a small firestorm in the Apple community. In most circumstances this acquisition, of a company who’s only products are a thermostat and a smoke detector, would go little noticed and probably has for 99% of the world. But the Apple community has more stake in the game because Nest was founded by ex-Apple engineers Tony Fadell and Matt Rogers, who were the driving forces behind the iPod. They seemed to run Nest with a similar ethos to Apple, by focusing on design, simplicity, and respect for the customer. However, selling their company to Google, who many see as having an opposite ethos of Apple, has riled many people.
Now, I think there is a legitimate argument that Google acquiring Nest is bad because it has a completely different philosophy from what Nest seemed to represent and also has a history of killing products from companies it acquires. Yet, I think some people in the community have gone a little overboard in viewing this acquisition as a way for Google to have access to your house and be more evil and garner even more sensitive information to sell to advertisers. The fact is Google already has access to your house, it’s on everyone’s devices right now. While maybe Nest gives them a few extra data points, the vast majority of people already use Google search, which can give Google much more private information than simply the temperature of your house.
That’s the real issue here, not simply that Google now has an extra way to garner information, but that we already give up so much information already. Our privacy has slowly been whittled away in the last twenty years and most people haven’t much noticed or cared. The reason is we’ve all traded that privacy for the wide open world of the internet, and haven’t looked back. I’ve completely gone along with the crowd and so much of my life is now floating around as ones and zeroes, just waiting for anyone to do the right web search and unveil my innermost secrets. I know this intellectually, but it still hasn’t changed my habits and I continue right on exposing my life everyday.
I think the end game of this might simply be all our information will one day be exposed on the internet. Yet, it will happen so gradually that we won’t notice. We’ll be wowed by internet connected devices that track our movements, our sleep, even the foods we eat. We’ll be amazed by services that organize our social lives and connect us with others. We’ll voluntarily connect into these things, never thinking about the fact that all our personal secrets are now readily available to the world. Eventually we might simply accept that this is the way things are, that privacy as people used to know it has changed and most people’s lives are an open book.
But that fact is privacy has always evolved over time. As societies grow larger and things become more interconnected, people are forced to give up more and more of their once held private lives. I think the internet has exponentially increased this in a short period of time, but people adapt fairly quickly. Most likely anyone born the 21st century will have a completely different view on privacy and may think nothing of the fact a simple Google search can reveal every small detail of their lives.
Right now, I think for all of us born in the 20th century, and who still want to keep some semblance of privacy, we must do it ourselves. It’s become a proactive fight that we have with companies like Google and Facebook and even Apple. We have to keep guard as to what information they are keeping and expose them when that information is handled in improper ways. We also have to speak with our actions and not use services if they are collecting or revealing too much of our personal information.
Yet, I fully realize this is very difficult and time consuming fight. It’s so much easier to simply go along with whatever the new service or gadget is and not pay attention to how that is actually slowly degrading your privacy. It’s a trade-off all of us must make, our privacy for the wonders of technology. While most now seem willing to make that trade-off, I hope they at least think about, if only for a moment, what they are giving up.