Selling Your Information, or, Google+

So the newest Google product made its way unceremoniously to the public's eye yesterday. We all had a feeling that it was coming.

This is the way Google does things isn't it? If they have something they are fairly confident in (Google Music, Android, etc) they talk about it at their developers conferences, much like Apple does. However, Google also does a lot of experimenting with products. These they often release under the radar, hoping that the blogosphere will take care of it.

And, they do.

But it also always seems to be these products that seem the creepiest.

I must be clear before pressing on though: I do an awful lot of bad-mouthing of Google and their products. But GMail, without a doubt, is still the best email system in the world...Google is easily the best search engine in the world...Google Docs is still the best way to collaborate on documents in the world (but, really, that isn't saying much)...and the Google contacts, calendar, and ecosystem is currently the best free way to keep your life in sync. Google puts out a ton of great products. I don't happen to like Android as much as iOS, but Android is a REALLY strong mobile operating system and each time I pick up one of my parents' phones, I am pleasantly surprised. So, I hate on Google a bit too much, but there is no denying that most of what they do is quality work; it just doesn't have the style, elegance, or seamless user experience that Apple has come to be known for...yet.

And Google's newest product is...Google+.

Google+ is, very simply put, an attempt at creating a better version of Facebook and Twitter. It takes ideas and concepts from both and uses them in nice, new ways.

Given Google's previous work in the web app space, they have a fair chance. Given Google's previous work in the social media space, they have no chance at all.

But all that aside, I can't review Google+ yet. I CAN say that it looks very promising. But, it is missing many more things (and I mean this almost literally: in the thousands) to be able to compete with the monstrosity that is Facebook. But, for what it is and where it is, it is very, very good.

Here's my fear: how does Google make its money?

Google's revenue is based almost completely in advertising (something like 96% of its revenue). This is no secret to the world. This is why when your mom emails you about buying your dad a tie, you see ads about ties in the bottom of your gmail. Google is using what should be private, sensitive information to advertise to you within not just search results, but your email client and many other things.

Facebook has received a lot of criticism in the past about how much information they have of yours and how they use it to make money. And don't try to sugar-coat it: Facebook is doing the exact same thing that Google is doing. But Facebook has much more than sensitive information within in an email: they have your name, address, phone, email, likes/dislikes, political status, pictures, friend lists, location, etc.

But, up until this point, Facebook hasn't had my email (though they are actively trying to change that), calendar, contacts, etc. They have had sensitive information, but they haven't had all of it.

And Google saw that omission.

And they wanted in.

So they designed a sleek new social network, so they could get that information, easily. What's the easiest way to get someone's information? Don't steal it, you can go to jail for that. No, ask them for it. Don't worry, if you give them a cool video chat feature, they'll want it so badly that they'll give it to you.

Call me a fanboy or just old-fashioned, but I'd rather the company I rely on not get their revenue from advertising (with influence from my information). I'd rather they get their revenue from me buying their shiny gadgets. Because in that way, they don't have an interest in finding out more about me, they only have an interest in making better, more attractive products. It still works like...the free-market capitalistic society was designed to work.

It is true that Google isn't "selling your information." No, not in the way that we have always thought about it. They're not selling our phone numbers to telemarketers. And that information isn't really being "shared" with others other than Google. But really, it's not too different. That information may truly be "private" by the world's previous standards, but I have a feeling that our definition of privacy is being redefined on a daily basis. And I also have a hunch that we haven't even seen the beginning of the problems our addiction to social media networks will cause.

Eric Schmidt was asked recently, "Should we be scared that Google knows too much about us?" To which he responded, "Would you rather us know about you or the government know about you?"

Neither, Eric. But if I had to choose, I'd choose the one who wasn't making billions of dollars from that knowledge.

Oh, the world we live in.

And yes, I'm still going to give Google+ a try. I'm addicted, just like the rest of us.