Last week, I had drinks with a close college friend who had come into town from San Francisco, where he works for a popular publication covering the digital media industry. This prompted a healthy debate over how much information we grant digital spaces access to—how much we allow to be extracted from our own digital lives, so to speak.
I have grown increasingly fearful of allowing digital spaces have access to my information following a variety of reports about the extent to which companies like Facebook or Google use that information. I’ve also become increasingly skeptical of Google as a company since it began to invest into defense technology and vie for defense contracts.
When the question comes up on my i–Device, asking me whether I am willing to grant access to my information, photos, whatehavenots, I say no.
He says yes.
His explanation was multifold, but it predominantly rested in the idea that these extractions are for the primary purpose of using metadata to better a product and create innovation. He suggested that his experience of permitting the sharing of his digital information with companies like Google was something thrilling to him—that “it was as though the company itself were giving me the opportunity to see a piece of the future,” he noted.
Wow. I’ll leave the implications of how excited he is about “seeing the future” aside.
Are we not afraid of Google? I’m afraid of any company that has this much social, cultural, and economic capital; that has the economic means to vacuum 19th century’s literature, as we have discussed; that has the symbolic capital to leave newspaper readers complaining that there aren’t enough world-renowned jam bands playing at their holiday parties; that has the power to rearrange the distribution of search results willy-nilly with little recourse but changes to its own profitability in ad revenue; that makes a car that can run without a person in it; that has invested so much in artificial intelligence in celebration of “the solidarity” (imagine this paired with Google Car—I had a class of middle school students imagine this once, and they crafted the plot of a television show about a sad car rampage).
I’m afraid of a company that does the above and houses the official mantra “don’t be evil.”
I’m afraid of any company that has a slogan WHOSE PRIMARY AUDIENCE IS ITSELF.
Kranich talks about enclosures. Levine, the relationship between corporations and the commons. Google enables commons spaces to thrive for now, but as Kranish notes various enclosures have been placed upon our access to information, particularly scholarly information. I am afraid of any company that can so easy generate a panoptic, that already colludes with the military industrial complex, and that can iron first or vacation gift shop clampy-style (yeah, you know the grabber) our access to information, including academic work and library sources, so easily.
What do you think? What do we do?