How much data does Google really have on us? And why?

data Google
Image credit | Drobot Dean

When you consider how much data Google has on us, it is scary. It is definitely more than any family member apart from, perhaps, your spouse. Even with a spouse, you might balk at being asked where you are at any given time, where you shop, for what and why.

The current situation has catapulted the privacy issue into the public spotlight, even though it is being slightly overshadowed. Companies such as Google, Twitter and Facebook were slow – reluctant even – to come up with data so that our governments could see whether their lockdown measures were working.

The amount and depth of data that Google has on us must be increasing, too. Now that we are shopping, and basically living online, you can be sure that someone is watching our every move.

As such, we are beginning to understand just how much data Google does have on us. It knows more about you than you do.

The question is – is it a good thing or a bad thing?

The other question is if Google or Facebook had brought out their data sooner, would we now be in a better or worse position?

This issue boils down to transparency. When these companies ‘asked’ us whether they could keep our data to make money, it was masked in terms and conditions so murky that no-one read them. And we knew that if we said ‘no’ we would not be able to use the service. It was, to be frank, blackmail.

If, however, Google or Facebook had asked us if they could use our data to improve the service, provide more personalised offers and generally lighten our lives, many of us would have said ‘yes’.

It was a balancing act. How many of us would have said ‘yes’ if they had asked nicely. And would this number outweigh the benefits they would get if they just grabbed our data anyway and hid behind forty pages of hokum?

There have been many moments when the benefits of the data Google has on us seemed worthwhile. The data could, they said, track the spread of seasonal flu, help us and the health services prepare.

And yet, even now, all the data that Google has tells us that we are all staying at home. Frankly, this we know.

When this crisis has passed, there will be a long drawn out reckoning. Many questions will be asked, many more will be ducked and – probably – we will not be any nearer the truth. We will, however, maybe better prepared for the next pandemic.

The question of how much data Google has on us – and why – will go on for many years to come. Whether it will tip the market into a Vendor Relationship Management model remains to be seen but right now it is looking quite attractive.

At the moment, though, as Tony Poulos says, where the hell is AI when we need it the most?

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